The Rock (1996)

Alcatraz. Only one man has ever broken out. Now five million lives depend on two men breaking in.

FBI chemical warfare expert Stanley Goodspeed is sent on an urgent mission with a former British spy, John Patrick Mason, to stop Gen. Francis X. Hummel from launching chemical weapons on Alcatraz Island into San Francisco. Gen. Hummel demands $100 million in war reparations to be paid to the families of slain servicemen who died on covert operations. After their SEAL team is wiped out, Stanley and John deal with the soldiers on their own.

Alcatraz. Only one man has ever broken out. Now five million lives depend on two men breaking in.
Michael Bay's best picture.
The sophomore effort from director Michael Bay, this $75 million dollar action film was released nationwide on June 7, 1996 - eventually earning $335 million. The particularly great R-rated premise sees a mild-mannered chemist teaming up with a resourceful ex-con who must infiltrate Alcatraz prison after a rogue group of military men, led by a renegade general, threaten a nerve-gas attack.
Constantly in over his head, and never one to use profane language, Nicholas Cage is excellent as the quirky chemist - often resorting to quips and jokes in lieu of violence. In a character that feels like a sort of spiritual successor to his portrayal of James Bond, Sean Connery is the patient but skilled MI6 operative.
After 30-years of false imprisonment, he's recruited from jail to help the feds sneak onto Alcatraz - as he's the only person to have successfully escaped from the prison facility decades earlier. When he's required to finally put his knowledge of the defunct prison to the test, the disbelief and amazement from his military companions is quite amusing.
The unlikely pairing of these two is honestly the best part of the film. Cage's zany behavior is a perfect foil for Connery's relaxed confidence. The British ex-con chastises his younger counterpart on 'doing his best'. "Your'best'? Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and -bang- the prom queen." After a quick beat and a sly grin, Nicholas responds, "Carla was the prom queen." This isn't just a funny encapsulation of their relationship, but one of my all-time favorite exchanges in any action movie.
Ed Harris is phenomenal as the quote, "bad guy" - a disillusioned Marine General whose terrorist actions are only to secure reparations for his forgotten and fallen soldiers. It's honestly a perfectly understandable, and dare I say noble position; a man willing to commit treason and risk his life to help the families of his former troops.
Which is why the government's handling, and ultimate dismissal of his ransom request is so perplexing and frustrating. Before ordering a massive aerial kill strike on the entire island, the President gives an impassioned speech (seemingly to an empty Oval Office) about his 'impossible decision' - but this only highlights the aforementioned plot hole. Harris only asked for $100 million dollars... why not just give him the money?
The supporting cast is stacked with even more excellent talent; David Morse, William Forsythe, Michael Beihn, Xander Berkeley, and Phillip Baker Hall. Of particular note however is John Spencer - who does fantastic work as a conflicted FBI director who reluctantly recruits Connery, Tony Todd who has one of the best on-screen deaths ever, and John C. McGinley whose unrealistic performance as an over-eager Marine makes him seem miscast.
A trio of composers, including Hans Zimmer, bring some interesting and appropriate ideas to the soundtrack, utilizing synthesized themes and electric guitars. It feels reminiscent of the excellent score from the "Rainbow Six" video game that came out two years later.
While this feature never quite breaks the mold, it definitely represents the best possible version of your stereotypical mid-90s action film. For a rewatchable thrill-ride with plenty of excitement and memorable characters, look no further. "The Rock" is explosive fun that never takes itself too seriously. Perhaps Bay's best film, I thought it was AWESOME.

Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Hollywood Pictures by Michael Bay, David Weisberg, Douglas Cook, Mark Rosner.
Stars: Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, Ed Harris, John Spencer.

Genres: Action, Adventure, Thriller

Keywords: san francisco, california war veteran fbi mercenary gas attack alcatraz prison terrorism hostage situation military

06/07/1996

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