- This article is about the film. For the actor/wrestler occasionally known as "The Rock", see Dwayne Johnson.
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The Rock is a 1996 Hollywood Pictures action film that primarily takes place on Alcatraz Island and in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was directed by Michael Bay, director of Bad Boys, and stars Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, and Ed Harris. It was produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, the producers of Top Gun and Crimson Tide.
The film was dedicated to Simpson, who died five months before its release. This was the first film on which Cage and Bruckheimer worked together.
A group of rogue Force Recon Marines led by disenchanted Brigadier General Frank Hummel (Ed Harris) seize a stockpile of deadly VX gas–armed rockets from a heavily guarded military bunker, reluctantly leaving one of their men to die in the process, when a bead of the gas falls and breaks. The next day, Hummel and his men, along with more renegade Marines (Captains Frye and Darrow who have never previously served under Hummel) seize control of Alcatraz during a guided tour and take 81 tourists hostage in the prison cells. Hummel threatens to launch the stolen rockets against the population of San Francisco unless the government pays ransom and reparations to the families of Recon Marines, (using money the US earned via illegal weapons sales) who died on illegal, clandestine missions under his command and whose deaths were not honored.
The Pentagon and FBI develop a plan to retake the island with a Navy SEAL Team, enlisting the bureau's top chemical weapons specialist, Dr. Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage), who initially thinks he's consulting the team, but soon learns that he has to accompany the SEALs due to his specialization in chemical warfare. Goodspeed's confidence, already shaky as he received only minimal training in combat, is further tested when his fiancee Carla reveals that she is pregnant.
Recognizing that any surface approach will be seen by Hummel's men, FBI Director James Womack (John Spencer) is forced to turn to federal prisoner John Mason (Sean Connery), a former MI6 Agent and SAS Captain who has been illegally detained for decades by Womack and his predecessors. Mason is the only Alcatraz inmate ever to escape through the prison's uncharted tunnels, doing so in 1963, one year after imprisonment.
Although Goodspeed manages to convince Mason to cooperate with the FBI in return for a pardon from the US Attorney General, Womack reneges on the deal. While in custody, Mason takes Womack hostage to escape, and takes a Hummer H1, while Goodspeed steals a Ferrari F355 and after the wild chase around the streets, Mason escapes. He leaves to see his estranged daughter Jade (Claire Forlani), who is the only proof that he exists. Goodspeed arrives and reveals to Jade that he is aiding the FBI. Womack initially only wants Mason to consult the SEALs, as he confides to Special Agent Ernest Paxton (William Forsythe) that he does not want Mason loose, but the FBI have no choice but to let Mason accompany the SEALs since he has committed the maps to memory.
The team infiltrates Alcatraz, through the underground tunnels with Mason's guidance. The SEALs however are surrounded and gunned down by Hummel's marines in a shower room after SEAL Commander Anderson (Michael Biehn) refuses to surrender (the fight is provoked by Marine Captains Frye and Darrow, later revealed to be following Hummel only for the money instead of honor), leaving only Mason and Goodspeed alive when they remained in the tunnels while the SEALs confronted the marines. Paxton plans to abort the mission, but Womack agrees to let them continue saying that Mason and Goodspeed are their last hope. Mason attempts to leave the prison, but Goodspeed manages to convince him to help him defuse the rockets, since Mason's daughter is at risk from the rockets.
Using Mason's knowledge of the prison, they quietly eliminate several small teams of marines and disable 12 of the 15 rockets, until Hummel threatens over the loudspeaker to execute a hostage if the remaining "Navy SEALs" do not surrender and return the guidance chips from the rockets. Only Mason surrenders to Hummel, trying to buy Goodspeed some time. Though Goodspeed manages to disable another rocket, the Marines capture him shortly thereafter. With the incursion team lost, the military readies a backup plan: an air strike by F/A-18's with Thermite plasma, which will neutralize the poison gas but kill everyone on the island including the hostages.
As Mason uses his unique experience to escape from their cells, he reveals why he was held there for so many years — for stealing a microfilm of the United States' most closely guarded secrets, including the Roswell UFO incident and the John F. Kennedy assassination (Womack revealed this to Paxton, earlier). Mason states he didn't return it, because he knew the FBI would "suicide" him, if he did. While Goodspeed and Mason search for the final two rockets, Hummel fires one of them but changes the coordinates at the last second causing the rocket to crash harmlessly out to sea. Facing Captains Frye and Darrow's (Gregory Sporleder and Tony Todd) frustration, Hummel explains that their bluff failed and that he refuses to harm innocent civilians. He orders them to exit Alcatraz with a few hostages and the remaining VX rockets to cover their retreat, while he'll stay, personally assuming blame. Realizing that they will not be paid their $1 million apiece, Frye and Darrow, along with Sergeant Crisp (Bokeem Woodbine), decide mutiny against Hummel and his second-in-command, Major Tom Baxter (David Morse).
With Mason and Goodspeed watching from afar, Crisp attempts to secure Hummel on Darrow's orders, but fails as the General is able to hold the SNCO at gunpoint. When Baxter is asked to take a side, he appears to side with Frye, Darrow, and Crisp. The Major says what a privilege it was serving with Hummel, then fires at the three rogues. In the ensuing firefight, Crisp is killed by Hummel but Baxter is killed while Hummel is fatally wounded and pulled away by Mason. Darrow and Frye proceed with the plan to fire on San Francisco. With his last breath, Hummel tells Goodspeed the location of the last rocket. As the jets approach, Darrow is killed when Goodspeed fires the last disarmed rocket into him, launching the Marine outside where he falls and is impaled on a fencepost. Goodspeed stows the last gas pearls from the warhead and takes a loose one, but is then attacked by Frye who begins to strangle Goodspeed to death. Using the VX to defend himself, Goodspeed shoves the gas pearl into Frye's mouth and gives him an uppercut to the jaw, breaking the pearl and exposing both of them to the gas. Goodspeed injects himself in the heart with atropine as Frye dies from the VX gas. Goodspeed then lights green flares to signal that the threat is over, but only after one of the pilots fires, sending Goodspeed flying into the sea. The early detonation hits the back of the island and harms no one else.
Mason reappears to pull the unconscious Goodspeed to shore. When he recovers, Goodspeed tells Mason that Womack tore up his pardon, which Mason expected. When radioed, Goodspeed states that Mason is dead. Goodspeed tells Mason to go to his hotel room, take a change of clothes and $200 he stashed and run. Mason thanks Goodspeed, and gives him a note that holds the location of where he had stashed the microfilm. When the FBI arrives, Goodspeed is asked about Mason and says the man was "vaporized." Paxton simply grins, suspecting otherwise as he, too, sympathizes with Mason.
Goodspeed and his pregnant bride Carla (Vanessa Marcil) visit Fort Walton, Kansas, recovering the microfilm with a half-century of state secrets, including who actually killed John F. Kennedy.
- Sean Connery as Captain John Patrick Mason
- Nicolas Cage as Dr. Stanley Goodspeed, FBI Special Agent
- Ed Harris as Brigadier General Francis X. (Frank) Hummel, USMC Force Recon
- John Spencer as FBI Director James Womack
- William Forsythe as FBI Special Agent Ernest Paxton
- David Morse as Major Tom Baxter, USMC Force Recon
- Michael Biehn as Commander Anderson, USN SEAL
- John C. McGinley as Captain Hendrix, USMC Force Recon
- Tony Todd as Captain Darrow, USMC Force Recon
- Gregory Sporleder as Captain Frye, USMC Force Recon
- Bokeem Woodbine as Gunnery Sergeant Crisp, USMC Force Recon
- Jim Maniaci as Private Scarpetti, USMC Force Recon
- Greg Collins as Private Gamble, USMC Force Recon
- Steve Harris as Private McCoy, USMC Force Recon
- Brendan Kelly as Private Cox, USMC Force Recon
- Danny Nucci as Lieutenant Shephard, USN SEAL
- Vanessa Marcil as Carla Pestalozzi
- Claire Forlani as Jade Angelou
- Anthony Clark as Paul, the hotel barber
- Todd Louiso as Marvin Isherwood
- Sam Whipple as Larry Henderson
- David Bowe as Dr. Ling
- John Laughlin as General Peterson
- Jim Caviezel as F/A-18 Pilot
Actors Xander Berkeley, Raymond Cruz, David Marshall Grant, and Philip Baker Hall make uncredited appearances in the film.
Produced at a budget of US $75,000,000, the movie was a smash hit, grossing a total of $134,069,511 domestically and $200,993,110 internationally, for a worldwide total of $335,062,621. Of the year 1996, it was the 7th highest home-grossing film in the US, and the 4th highest US film worldwide. It became the fourth highest grossing film of 1996 between Independence Day, Twister, Mission Impossible, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and 101 Dalmatians.
Quentin Tarantino was an uncredited screenwriter on The Rock. LA-based British screenwriting team Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais were brought in at Connery's request to rewrite his lines, but ended up altering much of the film's dialogue. It was Nicolas Cage's idea that his character would not swear; his euphemisms include "gee whiz." Bay had worked closely with Ed Harris to develop his character as concretely as possible, later adding a sympathetic edge to Hummel.
There were tensions during shooting between director Michael Bay and the Walt Disney Company executives who were supervising the production. On the commentary track for the Criterion Collection DVD, Bay recalls a time when he was preparing to leave the set for a meeting with the executives when he was approached by Sean Connery in golfing attire. Connery, who also produced the film, asked Bay where he was going, and when Bay explained he had a meeting with the executives, Connery asked if he could accompany him. Bay complied and when he arrived in the conference room, the executives' jaws dropped when they saw Connery appear behind him. According to Bay, Connery then stood up for Bay and insisted that he was doing a good job and should be left alone.
The scene in which FBI director Womack is thrown off the balcony was filmed on location at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. The filming led to numerous calls to the hotel by people who saw a man dangling from the balcony.
In the scene in which Paxton demands to know from Womack who Mason is, Paxton utters, "I've heard all the cloak and dagger stories." This line was a direct reference to Forsythe's earlier film, Cloak & Dagger.
In the original UK DVD release, the scene in which Connery throws a knife through a sentry's throat and says "you must never hesitate" to Cage was cut, although this scene was shown on British television. Consequently, a later scene in which Connery says to Cage, "I'm rather glad you didn't hesitate too long" lost its impact on viewers who had not seen the first scene. Other cuts included the reduction of multiple gunshot impacts into Gamble's feet in the morgue down to a single hit; a close-up of his screaming face as the air conditioner falls onto him; a sound cut to Mason snapping a Marine's neck and two bloody gunshot wounds (to Hummel and Baxter), both near the end of the film.
When the film premiered on German television (RTL), it was shown in two versions: the first version (starting at 8:15 pm) had most of its violence and gore cut, going so far as to suggest that some of the terrorists survived. The second version started at 1 am, and left all scenes intact. This scheme was repeated for the second viewing.
Awards and recognition
The Rock won a number of minor awards, including 'Best On-Screen Duo' for Connery and Cage at the MTV Movie Awards. It was also nominated for the Best Sound (Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell, and Keith A. Wester) Academy Award. It currently holds a "fresh" rating (67%) on Rotten Tomatoes based on 48 reviews, making it Michael Bay's highest rated film and his only film labeled as "fresh".
The film was selected for a limited edition DVD release by the Criterion Collection, a distributor of primarily arthouse films it categorizes as "important classic and contemporary films" and "cinema at its finest". In an essay supporting the selection of The Rock, Roger Ebert, who was strongly critical of most of Bay's later films, gave the film a 3 1/2 out of four stars, calling it "an action picture that rises to the top of the genre because of a literate, witty screenplay and skilled craftsmanship in the direction and special effects.
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