"Welcome to The Rhawck." (Connery accent)
(1996) Director: Michael Bay
Anytime there is something military in an action movie, I like
it better. I'm not a war monger but there's something about the
training, the uniforms, the whole hero-who-wants-to-protect-us
thing that raises the stakes for me. This movie is
surprisingly humane for a military movie. It pits an FBI Agent, a "chemical freak" ("Chemical Super Freak, actually"),
against a retired SAS Army Major, and
Nicolas Cage and
Sean Connery in a Buddy movie. They are great
together. The script is funny—full of action-movie
quips and attitude. The unlikely 'buddies' gain a begrudging respect for each
other as they go along. The heart of the movie is the
decency of Nicolas Cage's character Dr. Stanley Goodspeed,
despite the prominence of Sean Connery on the poster*. The
military and agency types are also well cast. Even though there
are so many characters that most of them get only a few moments, they
are great; the cumulative effect lends an air of authenticity
and an intensity to the action. The stakes are high and the
acting is committed. It's
Bruckheimer and it's a non-stop roller
coaster ride to hell. The two buddies, Cage and Connery,
manage to outwit and defeat the bad guys despite being outgunned
and outnumbered, and we get to go along for the
ride . . . with Ed Harris, Michael Biehn, David Morse, William Forsyth, John
("Dr. Cox") McGinley, Danny Nucci,
If all those actors aren't enough for you, there is an incredible volume and variety of
action ("Action Soup").
READ THE LIST! Appreciate it!:
A stealth operation to break into a military facility and steal
chemical weapons (with zip lines and knockout darts), which goes wrong
A horrible death by chemical poisoning
A life-and-death bomb defusing session in an FBI chemical
weapons training facility, which goes right
Negotiation with and the escape of a mysterious prisoner who is a notorious escape artist
A chase through a hotel that turns into a car chase through the streets of San Francisco
involving: a Humvee (I love that they poke a little fun at
Arnold here when the Humvee's owner sounds Austrian), a Ferrari, a motorcycle,
taxis, fruit, police cars, a
derailed cable car, a Volkswagen beetle, 2 trucks, many cars, a meter maid's truck,
parking meters, an enormous truck carrying water bottles, a
minivan, pedestrians, some in wheelchairs, a granny
(too obviously a stuntwoman in a horrible dress and bad wig), and
downed power lines,
and including, riding over and smooshing vehicles, crashing,
flips, driving through a storefront, gravity (it is San
Francisco), and explosions
A hostage situation/takeover of a legendary prison
facility by mercenaries (Marines)
Government/military secrets and bureaucratic/agency wrangling
A high-tech mobile command set-up and a model of Alcatraz
A helicopter approach with 2 Apaches (how cool are they?!)
and a Huey (let me know if I'm wrong)
"An incursion underwater to overtake an impregnable fortress
held by an elite team of U.S. Marines in possession of 81
hostages and 15 guided rockets armed with VX poison gas"
(by Navy SEALs in scuba gear
with STUs and outfits with mini cams)
A stand off between the Marines and the Navy SEALs that ends in a massacre,
and then picks up again in a video-game environment chase
through the maze under Alcatraz with a battlefield feeling, and
explosions including a raging fire ball
A thrown knife to the throat, and a squishing with a large
radiator-looking hunk of metal
A chase around the Alcatraz prison facility with several
gun battles and more explosions, a man on fire, and a ride on a mining cart
A missile firing at a major city
A military mutiny/gun battle where so much shooting is going
on, several drops of blood land on a camera
A missile firing at a man resulting in a brutal impaling
A life-or-death fight in a lighthouse where VX poison gas
is released and Nicolas Cage's character has to inject himself
in the heart with Atropine
An assault on Alcatraz involving F-18s and thermite plasma bombs,
resulting in an aborted bombing attempt that nearly kills
Nicolas Cage's character (and what an exciting aerial shot that
is even thought it's fake-GREAT JOB!)
The opening sets the military feel with a
funeral and great
music (parts of the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack
sound very similar). Once Nicolas Cage's character is set up as a chemical weapons
expert, we learn what's at stake:
"One teaspoon of this shit detonated in the
atmosphere will kill every living thing in an 8-block radius."
Cage's counterpart in chemical weapons is a trainee: Marvin
Isherwood. I couldn't help thinking the name was a combination
of pisher and peckerwood. He is the movie's Whiner. It was
written well, but I think Todd Louiso could have done a little
more with the lines. However, the Whiner here delivers the
intended effect: he makes you realize how hard it would be to
have to inject yourself in the heart with an enormous needle of Atrepine, and shows you that Cage's
character delivers under pressure.
performance is entertainingly adroit because even though the
character is a chemical weapons bad ass ("Womack,
your best chemical/biological man?" cuts to having
Cage having sex), he's still a bit of a tool (Stanley
Goodspeed). Cage gets his share of great lines, but it's not
so much what he's saying, as how he delivers it (he can make
ordinary words highly entertaining):
"Well, gosh, kind of a lot has happened since then."
"What do you say we cut the chit chat, a-hole?!"
"My stomach's doing hula hoops around my ass."
"FBI! Freeze sucker!"
"Oh, really? You know I like history too, and maybe when this is
over, maybe you and I can stop by the souvenir shop together,
but right now I just . . . I just wanna find some rockets!"
The fact that Cage's character is
"an educated man" gives us hope that we could be a bad ass/hero too because maybe
we could get there through education. Seeing Cage's geeky/novice
character have to use his FBI training and step up to the
challenge drives this movie through to the end, where, of course, he does
'the right thing'. While he may seem bumbling at times, his
intelligence and strength of character save the day. It's all
about who has integrity and who doesn't. Ultimately, integrity
tears apart Ed Harris's team and unites Cage and Connery. In the
end, what matters is saving lives, not taking them: Connery
saves Cage, and Cage gives Connery his life back.
Sean Connery's character Capt. John Patrick Mason is also intelligent.
Intelligent enough to break out of Alcatraz, successfully. That
is a big part of this movie. Even if you've never been there,
Alcatraz captures your imagination: the location/remoteness of it, the
fortress look, the reputation of the inmates, its 'inescapable'
status, all contribute to a legendary fascination with this
particular prison. How cool that there would be somebody who did
make it off the island! Luckily for us,
Connery brings his career to this role. I think some actors don't
realize that the roles they play get attached to them. We don't
know them, so we see them as the sum of their roles. (Tom Cruise
is a victim of this association. His acting abilities are
discounted and he is often cast as the same type of person
because he plays it so well, and because he plays it so well, we
think that's him and we think he's not acting.) So Mr. Connery
brings his suave, bad-ass, Bond-y-ness to the role. He has fun
with the lines as well, and his accent makes a simple statement
like "Welcome to The Rock" memorable.
"Well, Womack, you're between The Rock and a hard case."
"Gooodspeeeed, I'm not gonna kill
After escaping Alcatraz, Connery's character Mason is
recaptured. He later escapes other prisons too, but they've basically
locked him up and thrown away the key. When they introduce him,
he's aging but still scary, and not to be
Ed Harris's character General Francis X. Hummel feels bad for letting his men down. The
set-up from the opening scene reveals his motivation:
reparations for the families of the soldiers who died under his
command and were ignored by the Government. Even the high
command defends him saying "General Hummel is a man of honor."
And yet, this point doesn't seem to hit home for the General until
Alcatraz shower room standoff scene, Michael Biehn's character Commander Anderson tells
him "General, we've spilled the same blood in the same mud." When the
rocks fall and the shooting begins, all the SEALs are wiped out.
Now it's more blood on Ed Harris's hands. This hitch in his plans
(shedding the blood of more soldiers) eventually makes him abandon his quest, and re-route the missile
he fires, so that more innocents are not killed. Once we know he won't kill the
faceless citizens of San Francisco, watching him unravel and not
kill any hostages (or anyone else even in defending himself) is the only possible outcome.
interesting to see in the Criterion DVD version that the extras
MANY takes of Ed Harris flubbing his lines and acting "Bale-ish"
(Much Ado About Nothing). Even more interesting, they contrast
this with one take of Nicolas Cage tripping and falling down but
getting right back up and staying in character—the consummate
professional! This juxtaposition seems to say that Harris is a
pompous jerk. For me, Harris is not enough of a pompous
jerk in the role. His quest should have been more obviously
ego driven and less of a nice guy, so that when he is disobeyed in the shower room
scene and more lives are lost as a direct result of what he is
trying to do, his realization/transformation is more meaningful.
Also would have made you feel sorry for his dead wife.
Even the character arc of a character who is third on the list
is important. This gives the other two main characters the break
they need, and makes the lives lost less meaningless.
[It's a lot like another Buddy movie A Few Good Men with Tom Cruise and Demi
Moore up against such a strong
evil character like Jack Nicholson, but they are
not who the movie is about, they just get 'taken out' in the
process. What if they had been (who the movie was about)? Would
both movies have been even better, more compelling, even more
memorable? Don't get me wrong—I know both are about honor and
they're both still really great movies—The fact that I can
wonder this side point this attests to how interesting they
Yes, Bruckheimer. He's a big part of the movie—the look and
feel and success of it.
The moment between Connery and Cage when they speak this dialogue is
when their characters are on an even level in each other's eyes. Connery is no longer the bad guy
and Cage is no longer the buffoon.
"Are you sure you're ready for this?"
GOODSPEED: "I'll do my best."
best? Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and
fuck the prom queen."
GOODSPEED: "Carla was the prom queen."
Before this, they were thrown together by virtue of the fact
that they were the only two survivors and were being hunted, and
therefore were on the run together. The hunt through the
tunnels under the building, the
"[underground maze of shit that] has been ripped up and rebuilt
for years" is just the kind of stuff people play
video games to see and do. You can't help but wonder ALL
THIS is under Alcatraz?! But, of course, it doesn't matter. The
'ride' is moving and you're hanging on. Bruckheimer really
delivers the goods. Layers upon layers of what you go to an
action movie to see. The action (duh), the cast, the locations, the
bureaucracy and the uniforms, the weapons and vehicles, it's just tons of stuff
that has the cumulative effect of immersing you, and ultimately
that's what you go to the theater for: escape.
"[Bruckheimer] knows this. We are
dealing with one smart son of a bitch." After the verbal exchange
above, Cage and Connery become a willing team and work to
save the day. What ensues is a nail biter. What's Ed
Harris's character going to do? When he says "Fire" and
they launch the missile
you're thinking Oh My God . . . What can Cage and Connery do
now? But General Hummel makes his choice, and after that, up
against the greed of his men, he's done for. He tries to
maintain control with his command alone. By the time he shoots
his weapon, its half-hearted. From the moment he put his
Congressional Medal of Honor on his wife's tombstone, you had
the idea he was never coming back. The greed-crazed
remaining Marines chase Cage and Connery over the grounds of
Alcatraz and up into the lighthouse. Not hearing from Goodspeed
or Mason, the President has to order
an airstrike in case the bad guys are about to launch the last
missile. A scene includes the President! (Well, not the real President, but
talk about layers!) The F-18s are on their way with thermite
plasma. "The entire island is to
be blanketed—not one square inch
missed." The scene where the pilots who will
fly the F-18s are put on alert could have been shot in an office
or a lounge, but this is a Bay/Bruckheimer movie and it is shot
in a hanger with an F-18 plane and one of its giant wing-mounted rockets; everyone is in uniform and there's a whole unit of them; plus a
gorgeous reflection on the hanger floor and a giant American
flag flies above the huge hangar door entrance. Layers scream
military, standby, ready to go, Bruckheimer blockbuster, and
that's a big part of why this movie works so well.
Overall, this movie is incredibly
entertaining. As much for the casting/performances as for the
action. It is truly action PACKED! It's really so men and
toys, how can you not enjoy it?! I loved that when the go
into Naval Weapons Depot, it's "Unit 2" (second unit = action,
get it?). I loved the face melting off scene in the opening as
well: "Lemme outta here, oh God! Lemme outta here, oh God!"
That guy ("Marine That Dies"
Ingo Neuhaus) was awesome!
ALCATRAZ aka "THE ROCK"
In the scene where Connery and Cage are locked up, Connery is
in an empty cell, laying on the floor with his arms outstretched
and his fingers touch the walls. When I visited Alcatraz, I came
away with the lasting impression that the cells at Alcatraz are
crazy small (not even twice the width of a twin bed) and it must have been bitterly cold when the wind
blew in in the winters. It is the best movie shot/set on The
Rock/Alcatraz. There is a haunted quality to the burned-out
shells and the abandoned and worn look of the place, like so
many images of towns after bombings in war time. If you didn't
like The Rock, you're too hard to please, and you're not an
action movie freak, or fan. Yes, the women were just
girlfriends, background, and secretaries. Yes, the portrayal of
black/African-American people seemed racist since two of them
said "motherfucker" but . . . It was more that it was all
two-dimensional and cartoonish in quality (the fake granny) and
over the top, and for action movies, that works!
Here are some great action-movie lines from "The Rock" (these should give you the feeling the movie is shooting for):
"Cocked, locked, and ready to rock!"
"C'mon General, let's be all we can be." "I'd take pleasure in gutting you, boy." (I couldn't help but wonder
if it was Nicolas Cage's brilliant ad lib that he was laying on the
floor singing this line to himself.)
There were some really beautiful shots of San Francisco in this
movie (filming locations). It had a real look to it in terms of
the military feel, the underground portion, and Alcatraz itself.
There's a few little things that seemed wrong and bothered
Why would it take "an act of God" to "equip a flight of F-18s
with thermite plasma within the next 36 hours?" (Post 9/11
I sure hope they have them standing by!)
Mason knows Nelson Mandela ran for President, saw the Vietnam
highlights on TV, etc., but doesn't know Alcatraz is now a tourist
attraction (how'd he miss the Indian occupation, protests, the
They don't set this up well . . . The SEALs don't want to go during full
moon, but they go anyway and are picked up on radar. Do the
decoys really work? Are we supposed to think the bad guys watched
only the 2 smaller helicopters they were tracking and missed the larger one
"off the radar" hovering
right next to the island? If they could get THAT close,
drop them on the shore! But then they couldn't have all the cool
"island's bowels" stuff going on.
What did Nicolas Cage's ordering a Beatles album have to do with
anything? I kept waiting for the payoff on that. And the 3
washers in Mason's special equipment.
Was VX invented or discovered by accident?
How did General Hummel get a call through to the Director of the
FBI without the Director knowing who is on the line?
Why do their masks fog up when they are defusing the bomb?
And some that didn't bother me and worked well:
On the Alcatraz tour they don't lock you in the cells, but it works well
the way they used it to trap the hostages all at once. [The cell
doors are all painted red, no, they're not, wait, they are, no,
they're not again . . . (they weren't red when I was there but
maybe it was filmed in 2 locations).]
General Hummel's exposition: they would already know all that
before agreeing to do the mission, but it works to make him seem
pompous (pride goes before a fall).
What was the fire-trap thing? Why was that still running at a tourist
attraction? Did Harris's men turn it on? And what were they
mining underneath the prison? The island isn't that big for them
to go on a rail car ride, is it? I didn't care . . . The movie
was a great 'ride' and too much
fun to de-rail me.
(*Connery was still a bad ass in this movie, despite his age
(66). Sadly, however, just two years later in "Entrapment" in
1998, he didn't live up to the part.)