A madman announces that he has rigged a transatlantic liner with explosives and threatens to blow up the ship if he isn’t given £500,000.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“My name is Juggernaut and I have placed seven bombs aboard the Britannic.”
Richard Lester’s Juggernaut begins as it’s going to be one of those grandly filmed disaster movies with an A-list cast and numerous soap-opera-like subplots, but much to my surprise it turned out to be a most realistic and engrossing thriller.
This British production was inspired by true events, and it’s perhaps for this reason that it’s more true-to-life than you’d expect from a regular 1970s disaster movie. In fact, director Lester (A Hard Day’s Night and Superman II & III) reportedly got angry at the mere suggestion that he was jumping on the disaster craze bandwagon.
Although I do believe it’s technically a disaster movie (sorry Mr. Lester), and despite being described by esteemed film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum as “yet another ship-disaster blockbuster,” Juggernaut is an absorbing, suspenseful, finely crafted nautical thriller that somehow never succumbs to the worst tendencies of the disaster genre.
The script by Alan Plater (Priest of Love) and Richard Alan Simmons (Skin Game) is solid. The level of detail in this movie is insane. For example, I liked how the movie takes its time to explain the steps taken by the explosive experts to defuse the bombs. You are on pins and needles waiting to see if any of the bombs would go off or not.
I also liked how the story is told from different vantage points. You have the captain of the ship and his passengers trying to deal with the immanent threat. You have the bomb squad attempting to disarm the explosives. You have the Scotland Yard detective and his team desperately looking for the blackmailer. And you have government officials and the cruise director working together to make some difficult questions.
I can’t deny that it was rather easy for me to get immersed in the movie because it has actors that I love. One of my favorite Irish actors, Richard Harris (A Man Called Horse), gives a nicely understated performance as the head of the bomb squad. David Hemmings (Blow-up), another favorite of mine, plays Harris’s brave assistant.
Omar Sharif (Doctor Zhivago) is the cool-under-pressure ship’s captain. Shirley Knight (Sweet Bird of Youth) plays Sharif’s sardonic American lover. Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Labs) is a tenacious Scotland Yard detective. Ian Holm (Chariots of Fire) is the ethical cruise ship director. Cyril Cusack (Fahrenheit 451) has a wonderful cameo as an aging terrorist. Clifton James (Sheriff Pepper from Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun) is terrific as a no-nonsense American politician.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Juggernaut unfolds in almost documentary-like fashion. All sections of the movie are great because they are played so matter-of-factly. For this reason alone, the movie is worth watching. Highly recommended! Color, 109 minutes, Rated PG.
Original Theatrical Trailer: