The Rock (1996)
Winners go home and fuck the prom queen.
A group of U.S. Marines, patriots of the highest order and under the command of renegade General Hummel (Ed Harris), take over Alcatraz and threaten to unleash a series of biochemical attacks upon the San Francisco Bay area. The only thing standing in their way is an FBI chemical weapons specialist, lab rat Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) and an aging convict named John Patrick Mason (Sean Connery), the only man to ever escape from the Rock.
Why We Love It
As this site’s resident defender of all things Michael Bay, I’ve waiting patiently for the opportunity to highlight some of the director’s finer works. So you had to expect that when I gave the ‘go’ order on the Movies We Love column, that eventually I would jump in and profess my unwavering affection for Hollywood’s quintessential man of action. And to do that, we turn to Bay’s best film, hands down. A hostage situation of epic proportions — a renegade general with a noble cause and a dangerous plan, an unlikely tag-team of former badasses and lab rat who must do the unthinkable to bust into one of the most fortified places on the planet and stop him. This is the stuff that great action movies are made of — pace, passion, explosions, badassery. And most surprising of all, a commitment to story and character.
We begin there, with the story and character. Here’s a rule for aspiring action movie directors: the audience needs to connect with your characters, and more importantly, needs to become emotionally invested in them so that they will want to take the ride. And to do this successfully, it’s all about the introductions. In The Rock, we are introduced to each of the three main characters — Hummel, Mason and Goodspeed — in three separate, but equally badass ways. For Hummel, it is the film’s somber, then explosive opening scene where we see that this is a man who believes with all of his being that he is honoring his fallen brothers by stepping outside the grid. Then we watch as he and his team walk right into a military compound and liberate some of the most heinous chemicals known to man. He’s a guy who is ready to be a revolutionary, and it’s clear early on that he’s not afraid to do whatever it takes.
Stanley Goodspeed’s intro is equally compelling. Here we have a dorky FBI chemical analyst, the last person on earth who should be storming Alcatraz trying to take down a mad man. Then in the next scene he finds himself in a pressure chamber, disarming a ticking time bomb (literally) while vicious gas from a teddy bear eats away at his bio-suit. He succeeds, of course, hinting to the audience that there is more to Stanley Goodspeed than meets the eye. The same can be said for John Mason, whose intro is big as well. You know that the guy is a badass when two senior officials — one played by the incomparable John Spencer — talk about him as if he’s the world’s most dangerous man. Then he appears, shackled, grungy and fuckin’ scary. You can tell right away that he’s going to be a badass — and from there the adventure begins.
Of course, you can’t just have really good actors playing badasses in your movie and hope that it’s good. Your action movie has to have pace to it. For this, Michael Bay turned to Hans Zimmer to deliver a score that pounds away at the audience. At times, it is high-energy and triumphant, at others it helps slip us into the somber mood that swirls around General Hummel as he contemplates the grave consequences of his actions. Either way, the score is always helping to propel the story — to move the audience forward and keep them engaged for the ride ahead.
Oh yeah, then there’s the action — the famous Michael Bay explosions. In The Rock, there are plenty. None of them fail to impress. From the awesome explosion of a San Francisco rail car that ultimately leads to a personal favorite bit of dialog — “Dude, you fucked up your Ferrari.” “It’s not mine,” Nic Cage’s delivery is perfect — to the explosion of gun fire as the Michael Biehn-led Navy Seal team is massacred to the big final bombing of the island, framed perfectly over Nic Cage’s shoulder as his character desperately tries to signal that he’s disabled the final rocket. As if the need for a run-on sentence didn’t make it obvious enough, it’s all quite simply awesome and shot beautifully, as many of Mr. Bay’s action sequences are. It’s the kind of action that wraps you up and gets your heart rate rising — that rare kind of action that rocks you (pun intended) to your core.
Moment We Fell In Love
Ed Harris’s General Hummel snapping the head off of the young, spry White House Chief of Staff while stating his demands is one great one, as is the exchange between Hummel and Michael Biehn’s Commander Anderson right before all hell breaks loose in the shower room. But perhaps the great moment is the film’s climactic hand-to-hand battle between Stanley Goodspeed and Captain Frye (played by Gregory Sporleder). It all comes down to a soldier desperate to carry out the final stage of the diabolical plan and a nerd-turned-fighter with a little glass ball full of nasty shit. Spoiler alert: the bad guy ends up choking on the nasty shit, the good guy ends up having to stab himself in the heart with a giant needle. If that doesn’t scream badass and get you hooked, I don’t know what does. Oh, and then another explosion happens.
On the subject of The Rock, I could go on for days. But who wants to read my gushing about Michael Bay for days on end. Let’s just leave it with the facts, kids? This is Bay’s best film. Why? Because it is firmly grounded by an excellently crafted story, with sharp dialog delivered by an incredibly capable group of actors and complimented by some intense action that is driven by a pulse-pounding score. This my friends, is an action movie at its best — an emotional rollercoaster ride worthy of the hyperbole. A flick that is, in a word, badass.
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