VOD film review: The Rock
James R | On 06, Sep 2019
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Sean Connery, Ed Harris
Michael Bay. Those two words alone are enough to make some cinephiles shudder, but the music video helmer has a handful of genuine gems to his name. And while Armageddon and Bad Boys have their charms, The Rock is Bay’s undisputed best – a hugely entertaining spectacle that juggles explosions with character and comes up with one of the most enjoyable screen double-acts in recent memory.
Only Bay’s second feature film, before he could form some unappealing habits, the movie benefits from a killer premise: a former inmate of Alcatraz has to break back into the prison to solve a hostage situation. The inmate? John Mason (Sean Connery). Going in with him? FBI chemical weapons expert Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage).
It’s cracking match of two dynamic screen presences. Connery is nonchalant and cool with a swagger that comes from being 007 for years, while Cage is jumpy, eccentric and earnest.
You couldn’t blame The Rock for resting on its laurels there, but it has one secret weapon up its sleeve: Ed Harris, who brings a genuine sense of conflict to the villain, a former general who is holding tourists in the prison to ransom to get fair compensation for former military veterans. He believes ardently that he’s the good guy in this scenario, and, despite the die-hard loyalty of his mercenary troops – including Scrubs’ John C. McGinley, Platoon’s Tony Todd – is reluctant to cross the line and do what he threatens to: unleash VX nerve gas rockets on nearby San Francisco.
The result is a string of unsurprisingly slick set pieces balanced with surprisingly intelligent collision of ideas and motives – or at least the illusion of them. A car chase through San Fran’s hilly streets finds a contrived reason to blow up a tram, while Connery’s gruff deadpan only gets better in the face of each increasingly violent confrontation.
The script mixes zingers in with the chaos, while Bay’s camera stays refreshingly leer-free for the duration, even though the director undoubtedly cares more for his male characters than any woman in a 10-mile radius. But as far as high-concept 1990s genre fare goes, it’s hard to name a more popcorn-friendly affair than The Rock, stealing ideas willy-nilly from other action flicks and remixing them into a reckless slice of bombast. It forms one part of a trio of peak Nic Cage outings, along with Con Air and Face/Off, which saw the actor’s wild charisma matched by the carnage on screen – in all three definitive 90s actioners, Cage can turn his performance up to 11 without drowning out the loud scenery – even when he’s strumming a guitar in his underwear. Dwayne Johnson would never do that.