Crimson Tide is a war film about the United States Navy's nuclear submarine USS Alabama (SSBN-731), which gets sent to the Russian Far East to deter the leader of a Russian civil war, a violent nationalist who may or may not have nuclear weapons to use against the United States.The main conflict occurs between the boat's executive officer, Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington), and The Captain, Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman). Their personalities openly clash, Hunter being the modern Cultured Warrior and Ramsey having similarities to the old-fashioned Sergeant Rock. When their orders are Lost In Transmission, Hunter argues that they should not launch their nuclear weapons until they can confirm the orders. Ramsey fears that would be too risky.Note on the title: "Crimson Tide" is the nickname for the sports teams at the University of Alabama.
Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Near the end when the two commanders refuse to back down, and just sit around hoping the radio gets fixed... and start having a conversation about leadership, thinly disguised as a discussion on horses, of all things.
Artistic License - Military: In real life, the command to launch nuclear weapons cannot be countermanded, precisely because of what happens in the film. It is difficult enough for an officer to go through with such an order; they would be much less likely to do so if they thought it could be rescinded at the last minute.
As You Know: During the attacks by the Akula submarine, one crew member repeatedly asks another what basic combat terms mean. In fairness, this is lampshaded when another crew member asks "Who did you fuck to get on this boat?!".
Badass Creed — This exchange, between the captain and the chief of the boat, spoken to the crew before they board as a sort of creed:
Ramsey: You're aware of the name of this ship note The correct Navy nomenclature for a submarine is actually "boat", aren't you Mister COB?
Walters: Very aware, sir!
Ramsey: It bears a proud name, doesn't it Mister COB?
Walters: Very proud, sir!
Ramsey: It represents fine people!
Walters: Very fine people, sir!
Ramsey: Who live in a fine, outstanding state!
Walters: Outstanding, sir!
Ramsey: In the greatest country in the entire world!
Walters: In the entire world, sir!
Ramsey: And what is that name, Mister COB?
Walters: Alabama, sir!
Ramsey: And what do we say?
Ramsey/Walters: Go Bama!
Crew: Roll Tide!
Blood Knight / Colonel Kilgore: In an early dinner table conversation, Ramsey is obviously enamoured with the glory of war and destroying the enemy in the line of duty.
Can't Kill You, Still Need You: A US submarine gets word that some Renegade Russians are preparing to launch some nukes they've managed to get ahold of and are ordered to launch their own nukes first. Then a second message is Lost In Transmission regarding the launch, and the crew soon tears itself in two between those who want to launch nukes now, and those who want to confirm the intent of the second message. Eventually, the Captain is put in a position where he is threatening another officer with a gun to try to and get the launch codes. The officer, who is the only one who can access those codes, refuses to turn them over. The captain counts down... and then doesn't go through with the shooting it because if he kills the officer, no one on the ship will be able to use the nukes. The Captain gets around it by threatening to shoot the officer's subordinate and friend instead.
The Captain - It may be the Commander-in-chief's Navy, but it's his boat—and if you can't keep up, that strange sensation you feel in the seat of your pants is his boot in your ass.
Commander Hunter makes for a competent skipper during his short stint in command.
Dutch Angle - Noticeably used a couple of times in the latter half of the movie.
A Father to His Men - Hunter leads from the bottom up, contrasting with Ramsey's lead from the top style.
Nevertheless, the men have a near fanatical devotion to Ramsey.
Foreshadowing - In the opening, the Captain comments that Jack Russell Terriers, like his dog, are the smartest animals alive. Bear, the dog, seems to take to Commander Hunter, approving of him. Turns out, the dog made the right call.
In a coffee break in the officer's mess, the Captain, his XO, and several officers discuss Von Clausewitz and his musings on war. Commander Hunter's assertion that the true enemy is war itself foreshadows how he eventually wins a nuclear war, by not starting one.
General Ripper: Ramsey is all too eager to launch the nukes when the order arrives and is unwilling to wait for the counter-order that was cut off during a comms blackout.
God Help Us All - The Captain, Ramsey, believes they should launch their nuclear missiles immediately to obliterate the terrorist faction in Russia. Hunter argues that they should get confirmation before starting a nuclear holocaust.
Ramsey: God help you if you're wrong.
Hunter: If I'm wrong, then we're at war. God help us all.
Lost In Transmission — The main conflict revolves around the differing opinions of the captain and the executive officer after they receive an interrupted emergency message that begins "Nuclear missile laun...". Having previously been ordered to launch their nuclear weapons, and being unable to reestablish communications, the captain feels they must ignore the incomplete transmission (which due to this trope has no authentication code) and launch immediately, as per their orders in hand, while the executive officer wants time to ask for confirmation before they start a nuclear holocaust.
Weps: If they order him to launch, we'll launch, and we'll blow 'em all to hell. But I'd rather go down myself than get this one wrong.
The Mutiny: There's a mutiny aboard a submarine during rising tensions between the United States and Russia that were set to go nuclear. Tricky, in that none of the participants are sure who the mutineer actually is, as both sides claim legitimate authority within the Articles of War governing the United States Navy.
My Master, Right or Wrong - Several Alabama crewmembers demonstrate that even when they don't understand the logic of his decisions, they'll follow Captain Ramsey loyally to the bitter end. Part of the friction with Commander Hunter is that he is slightly less willing to follow the Captain all gung-ho.
One gets the impression that if the Alabama had launched an unconfirmed strike and triggered a world ending nuclear war; if the crew stood trial (if anyone was left to try them) they'd still defend their commander's orders.
The Neidermeyer: When he's not being a Colonel Kilgore to his officers, talking about how "war is the continuation of politics by other means", Ramsey is The Neidermeyer to the crew during normal day-to-day operations. When informed by Hunter that morale is low and that they might need some words of encouragement from their beloved captain, Ramsey takes the opportunity to chew them all out over the intercom for being lazy and feckless. He also orders a missile drill in response to news of a fire breaking out in the ship's kitchen, just to test the crew's readiness.
Lt. Dougherty persecutes a poor seaman on the bus because he didn't address him correctly. He demands the crewman answer an obscure question from an old submarine film and makes him drop and give him 20 when the crewman fails to answer.
New Meat - Subverted: Hunter is new to this boat, but is very experienced.
Experienced on non-combat situations that is. A major part of the conflict is that Hunter is experienced but too young to have seen real action, whereas Ramsey is stated to be one of the last officers in the Navy with experience of war.
Newscaster Cameo - Richard Valeriani, a long-time White House correspondent, played himself reporting the backstory leading to the plot.
Noisy Guns: When it's all gone seriously wrong, near the close, two groups of submariners are pointing guns at each other. Every move they make seems to result in their guns being cocked, going by the soundtrack.
Not So Different - As much as the movie plays up the differences between them, in many ways Hunter is a younger Ramsey. Like the Captain, Commander Hunter has no qualms sacrificing the lives of three crewmen if it means saving the ship. As "cultured" as Hunter is, if you pay attention, you'll notice that in his state room, Captain Ramsey always has some sort of classical or opera music playing. Additionally, each man is capable of rallying various crew to their cause with little more than a word.
A Nuclear Error - The captain of a US nuclear submarine was, until recently, permitted to release his nuclear weapons if he could not communicate with the President after the order to arm the warheads was given. In 1995, this was also the Russian policy for sub commanders.
Peace Through Superior Firepower - "We're going over there, and bringing the most lethal killing machine ever devised. We're capable of launching more firepower than has ever been released in the history of war. For one purpose alone: to keep our country safe."
Race Against the Clock — For the captain this trope is literal. The Russians have begun fueling their missiles and so they will be ready to launch in one hour. If that's correct, then he needs to launch preemptively.
Red Alert: The captain of the Alabamais depicted ordering back-to-back drills for "Battle Stations, Torpedo" and "Battle Stations, Missile" while a very real fire is being fought in another compartment. The climax of the film occurs with the crew at Battle Stations, Missile.
Rousing Speech — Subverted when Hunter tells the Captain that the crew may need a pat on the back to improve morale, the Captain makes an immediate boat-wide speech that essentially says "man up or get off the boat".
Ramsey: May I have your attention, please. Mr. Hunter has brought it to my attention that morale may be a bit low, that you may be a bit... 'on edge'. So I suggest this: Any crewmember who feels he can't handle the situation can leave the ship right now. Gentlemen, we're at Defcon 3. War is imminent! This is the captain. That is all.
Hunter: Very inspiring, sir.
The Captain had played this straight before the crew boarded, but did promise a boot in the ass of anyone who couldn't keep up.
Rivetti gets into an argument over which Silver Surfer is the best one.
Dougherty and some other officers talk about submarine movies, including The Enemy Below.
Serious Business: Several of the men get into a physical fight over which Silver Surfer was the "true" one. The incident is meant to emphasize just how on edge they all are due to the tense situation with the nuke dilemma.