Director: Michael Bay
Writer: David Weisberg, Douglas S. Cook, Mark Rosner
San Francisco, Alcatraz Island. A commando of rebellious US Marines has taken hostage 83 tourists and threatens to shoot a bunch of deadly chemical missiles at the Coast if their demands are not completed. At their command is General Hummel, a hero who fought in Nam and during Desert Storm. He’s pissed at the government for ignoring the soldiers on illegal strike actions who died for their country. So he uses the threat of force to get 100 M$ which will then be distributed to the families of the men who died under his at combat. Hey, sounds good so far, right? I mean, usually, villains are plain evil, but in this film, the bad guy ain’t actually all that wrong. His cause is just, though his ways are kinda crooked. Hence, he must be stopped. Through a series of quite unbelievable twists, a counterattack team is formed and send to stop the terrorists under the intelligence of a pair of unlikely agents. There’s Stanley Goodspeed, a geeky scientist with no field experience, and John Patrick Mason, a sixtysomething British Secret Agent who once successfully escaped Alcatraz and has spent the last 30 years in jail without trial. Okay.
Let’s admit it, this ain’t a perfect script. Well, it’s unbelievable for the most part, and most of it is an excuse to join together a bunch of action pieces. Still, it works at grasping our attention, and before long, we’re caught in the action. Personally, I believe they should have cut some of the so overseen military bullcrap, you know, these boring scenes in which stereotypical officers argue about what should be done next. You know the drill, you got the pissed off guy, the young guy without a clue, the fatherly figure who has faith in the hero… But once the attention is put on Mason and Goodspeed, the film gets really exciting. The characters are very well developed and their bonding is unusual and often funny. The dialogue is real sharp and perky, and cool one-liners abound.
Oddly enough, the thing that works the least in the film is the action. I’m not saying that the film ain’t thrilling by moments, it’s just that I long for something more. In typical Jerry Bruckheimer fashion, the testosterone level is incredibly high, the cinematography is as slick as it gets and the editing is frenzied, but what the film lack is style. Who can honestly distinguish the direction of Tony Scott from Michael Bay‘s (Bruckheimer Films’ two top directors)? Action is better when it’s inventive and stylish. In “The Rock”, the action is way too generic. There’s a huge car chase filled with noise and destruction, a few shoot-outs, lots of explosions and a couple of fights. All this is entertaining, but not really memorable. I mean, we’re used to so much more wildness, you know, like in the over the top set-ups from classics like “Die Hard” or “Lethal Weapon”, or in 1996’s hottest actionner, “Eraser”.
Still, I feel affection for “The Rock”, for a simple reason: the cast is just astonishing. First, the film has the good sense of casting a convincing actor as the bad guy. I guess they took a cue from Hitchcock, who said that the stronger the villain, the stronger the film. Ed Harris is not the first person you’d think about for this kind of film, but that’s what makes his performance so interesting. Rarely have action movies villains been so complex and ambiguous. Then there’s the legendary Sean Connery as Mason. He’s surprisingly physically fit, and he still has his witty sense of humor. He kicks ass! But, unsurprisingly, the key performance is Nicolas Cage, in his follow-up to “Leaving Las Vegas”. It’s quite a change of pace, but he’s still impressively good. As Goodspeed, he brings plenty of humor and style to the film. I can’t think of a more compelling performance in a recent action film. Every time he’s on-screen, his strong presence makes each scene riveting. Believe me, he has some cool moments in this picture, especially when he’s arguing with Connery. They have great chemistry together. I also love the quiet scenes with his fiancé, at the very beginning. The film ain’t really worthy of his talent, but he still offers a really solid performance. Just for that, the film’s a must-see.