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Friday, 19 May 2017

Retro Review: The Rock (1996)

The Rock
Cast: Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, Ed Harris, John Spencer, Michael Biehn
Genre: Action Thriller
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $200 million 

Plot: A mild-mannered chemist and ex- con man must lead a counterstrike when a rogue group of military men, led by a renegade general, threaten a nerve gas attack from Alcatraz against San Francisco

'Can You Smell What The Rock Is Cookin?'

The Rock has the make and feel of a B-movie by all accounts with its large explosions and low-key editing. Directed by Michael Bay - years before his work went into steady decline, beginning with the Transformers live-action movies - this is an example of a film that demonstrates the former talents of Bay and effectively carves out an engrossing action film.

The casting is pretty much spot-on, with Connery and Cage as the plucky heroes and Harris turning in a highly effective antagonist & anti-hero performance. Being the bad guy, introduced a few minutes after the intro, he doesn't let up and manages to maintain his authority, whilst emphasising his character's existence and his motives into doing what he does. As the film progresses, we learn that he isn't as outright evil for the sake of it, but also he has a conscience. 

The plot of the film essentially follows a group of mercenaries, or be it marines led by Harris's Francis Hummel who seize control of a former prison in Alcatraz on the bay of San Francisco. Hummel threatens a nuclear attack on the city's soil if his demands are not being met. The government then turn to Goodspeed and Mason - with the latter having managed to escape Alcatraz and the prison that goes by the name of The Rock (henceforth, the title of the film). Goodspeed and Mason must work together, in order to foil Hummel's plans. 

Likewise, with Sean Connery here shows that he could still cut it on the action front, and as the elder statesman, whilst Nicolas Cage's turn as bio weapon's expert, Stanley Goodspeed spearheaded what later turned out to be Con Air and Face/Off, in his transition as an action star actor. This unlikely partnership works well, as they bounce off one another: with Cage's character emphasising his points whenever he shouts out his lines and Connery's character, Brit and ex-SAS captain, John Mason is like an incarnation of James Bond 007- only more badass and even rougher around the edges. His one-liners, occasional and unintentional bursts of humour and charisma we long tend to associate Connery with, in his other performances, ultimately shows that not only can he cut it as 007, but also as Mason. Arguably, he gives the best performance out of the cast; with latter movies, The Rock and Finding Forrester, Sean Connery bowed out of the limelight, & gracefully with penultimate and extraordinary turns. 

Cage and Connery's buddy-like camaraderie works like a dream: an uncanny and unlikely partnership a few of us saw coming, and yet when they were on screen together in a couple of scenes, it felt genuine and believable enough for me to get behind and root for to succeed in the end. 

I will admit that as I sat through this film, the pace was a little slow and sluggish; some of it could have been trimmed and certain aspects of it that didn't involve an action set-piece did drag on a little longer than they ought to have. But from the middle towards the final third, was when The Rock really kicked into third gear with the action. 

And when it did, it was fun to watch. 

Final Verdict:

Unlike the latter Michael Bay films, The Rock manages to retain a sense of uniqueness that doesn't sell out to the audience, as well as an image that doesn't dilute or cheapen oneself. 

It's big, it's bold, brash, hard with some great action set pieces and with three unlikely cast members in Harris, Cage, Connery in a film such as this together, The Rock gives it everything it has got in the action tank. 


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