Just checked, and "The Hunt for Red October" is back on Netflix instant streaming, after a brief hiatus.
Growing up in the early 90s, Hunt for Red October was one of the first films I ever saw, and it's stuck with me for a long long while. The poster for it, with Sean Connery's commanding and majestic face looming over a red and black background, still gives me tingles down my spine. It got me into reading Tom Clancy's original novel and his entire body of work, and while the novel is a supremely confident and great thriller with a lot more depth and technical detail... the movie works splendidly as a concise two hour adaptation that summarizes a lot of the events in shorthand. In fact, it's the only Tom Clancy film adaptation that really hit the mark and honored the source material, IMO. The two Harrison Ford films certainly didn't work for me, nor did that peculiar Ben Affleck movie about the white supremacist (WTF?). The Hunt for Red October stands as the one true Tom Clancy movie that got it absolutely right and really maintained the tenor of Clancy's work.
A large part of why I disapproved of the two subsequent Clancy films has to do with the character of Jack Ryan. To put it simply, Alec Baldwin is Jack Ryan. They really dropped the ball by recasting the role, because I can't see anybody else ever playing that role as well as he did. Harrison Ford is fine for Indiana Jones or Han Solo or whatever, but he really did not make any sense as a Jack Ryan. With Baldwin, we got the intellectualism, the youthful energy, and the everyman appeal that's key to the Ryan character. The guy's an analyst that's forced by circumstance to reach outside his comfort zone and take part in grand military events that he has no business being involved in. That's the very core of the character and was communicated effortlessly by Baldwin's portrayal. I'm not particularly fond of the actor's real life persona, but I'll always be grateful for his turn as Ryan.
Of course, for most people... the real star of the movie is Sean Connery, and that's easy to understand. It's kind of a funny thing, because when you look at it... Sean Connery found his biggest successes as a star after he got old, with this film and The Rock. Sure, he was James Bond, but I don't think those Bond films are anywhere near as good as the two hits he had in the 90s. Connery's performance in this movie is pitch-perfect, which comes as a strange thing because the guy is Scottish, plays a Russian captain, and makes no effort at attempting a Russian accent. He sounds Scottish all the time. Yet because of his gravitas and sheer confidence in his craft, it works and we never question that he is a Russian sub captain. Sam Neill plays the trusty first officer Borodin and somehow manages to bring this minor character to life in a way that's truly touching. This comes as a pleasant surprise, because I found Sam Neill incredibly boring in Jurassic Park, he was almost sleep-inducing. There was no charisma or anything with that performance. Here, it's a small role, but you do get a sense for the character and the motivations of these men turning their backs on their country. Perhaps Neill is just better suited to being a character actor.
A large part of the success of the movie has to go to the director, John McTiernan. Looking back, this was a risky move in that McTiernan's other hits were not at all similar to what you'd find in a Clancy novel, yet somehow McTiernan was able to adapt and focus his unique energies into respectfully preserving the tone of the novel. Of course, this was also McTiernan in his prime, where he seemingly could do no wrong. In fact, if you place this film in a loose trilogy with his other two back-to-back blockbusters, "Die Hard" and "Predator", I could well make the argument that no other action director has had a better run of sustained productivity and excellence. Perhaps Cameron, but it's a near thing.
My favorite line in the movie:
"We're going to kill a friend, Yevgeni. We're going to kill Ramius."