Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Essentials- "The Rock" (1996)

The Essentials- #55

The Rock
I feel my tastes are very hard to judge. I don't think it would be fair to say that I love one genre over the other. There are definitely genres I favor more than others, but that doesn't mean I don't give certain movies a fair shake. I enter every movie with as little bias and baggage as possible. I have to. There is no way I could be successful with this blog if I couldn't watch everything I watch without a pure heart. I like the experimental, I like foreign fair, I love tentpole junk, and I love guilty pleasures too.

"The Rock" in 1996 starring Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery, is my favorite action movie of all time. Some will disagree, some will look at me as if I have a brain aneurysm, but I can't help how I feel. "The Rock" delivers everything I wanted from an action movie, and more. There is big action, there is big humor and there are big thrills. The movie is full of badasses delivering incredible one-liners. Sure, there are several leaps of logic and far-fetched flaws. But in the case of "The Rock," the pros out-way the cons quite a bit. You won't believe how well the chemistry between Connery and Cage works, you won't believe just how great Ed Harris' villain can truly be, you also won't believe how surprised you'll be by what you watch.

As the movie opens, we meet Brigadier General Francis X. Hummel (Harris), a highly decorated general who is considered a hero and a man of honor by our government. Although he is highly decorated, he is a bit agitated by the treatment of his fallen heroes. So agitated that Hummel and a group of marines break into a military base and steal 16 missiles filled with V-X Gas, a very powerful and terrible chemical weapon. The marines then go to San Francisco to Alcatraz Island and takes everybody at the tourist site hostage. Hummel declares that if the United States Government doesn't pay a certain amount of money, he will launch the gas, killing millions. The FBI chooses one of their special chemists Stanley Goodspeed (Cage), to accompany a group of Navy Seals to take the island from the marines. Goodspeed is brilliant with chemicals and the Seals will protect him while he disarms the missiles. The problem is Hummel is keeping the island well guarded, they need a guide. The FBI then turn to John Mason (Sean Connery) for help. Mason is a British spy who is been jailed by the U.S. government for years, due to being caught trying to recover secrets from the U.S. Mason is the only person to have ever escaped Alcatrez, and he will help the Seals to obtain his freedom.

What makes the film work is how awesome Cage and Connery are together. I would have never guessed in a trillion lifetimes that Connery and Cage could have possibly gelled well onscreen, but they totally did. Connery in particular channels some of the suave and wit from his James Bond days, but John Mason is a completely different character compared to Bond. There is a dangerous drive that fuels Mason, something we would never see in Bond. However, there is also something heartfelt about Mason as well. Mason has a relationship from his past in America, which is what is driving him to help a country he despises. Its an incredible highlight for Connery and he chews up the scenery. "The Rock" is one of the few examples where Cage's "Crazy Cage" persona actually works. However, it is very well reserved. This is one of the fewest opportunities where Cage didn't go supremely crazy onscreen and he's good. 

Then there is the marines. Like I said above, the work done by Ed Harris is great. He is a powerful presents in the film and an equally great villain. So many times in action films, bad guys are the bad guys due to convenience, they are there because our hero needs somebody to beat down. What I liked about "The Rock" was that Harris and his marines were not a plot convenience, they are not trying to blow up the world just because it makes writing a movie more easy. Hummel's plan is quite understandable, it is very easy to feel Hummel's pain, and the work by Harris certainly reinforces that. Hummel is a good man and he's trying to make a difference, but he goes about it in a dark way. What I loved about Harris' performance is that we still see pockets of a good man in his performance, but there is also a monster inside of him, controlling his every move. Hummel is a great, underrated villain in movies. The marine team is also fun to watch, and actors like David Morse, Tony Todd, John C. McGinley, Bokeem Woodbine, and Gregory Sporleder. The supporting cast really nails it and they should be credited for their work.

Oh and Michael Biehn? Who played Kyle Reese in the first "Terminator" movie. He's the leader of the Navy Seal team who break into Alcatrez. He's great, extremely great.

Michael Bay is hit or miss, every element in his action movies are always turned up to the highest possible notch, which makes him quite laughable. But "The Rock," is one of the rare examples where his absurdity actually pays-off. Bay uses every usual action set piece in movies, and he even uses pieces of other movies (watch for a classic Mexican Stand-off near the end of the film.), but Bay is able to make every piece count. His bag of tricks really add up to something worth seeing and worth remembering. "The Rock" is big, its brainless, its completely silly, its ridiculous, but its also highly addictive. If you love anything about the action genre, check this out.

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