Monday 4 July 2022

Movie Review: Juggernaut (1974)

A terrorism crime thriller, Juggernaut contains standard defuse-the-bomb drama but little else.

With Captain Alex Brunel (Omar Sharif) at the helm and 1,200 passengers and crew on-board, the ocean liner SS Britannic sets sail into the North Atlantic. As the vessel encounters rough seas, a terrorist calling himself Juggernaut informs the ship's owner Nicholas Porter (Ian Holm) that seven sophisticated barrel bombs are on-board. He demands £500,000 within hours in return for information on how to deactivate the devices.

Porter is pressured by British government types to not pay, while a Navy bomb disposal team led by Lieutenant Commander Anthony Fallon (Richard Harris) is airlifted onto the Britannic. Fallon and his men start the dangerous work of attempting to deactivate the bombs, while Superintendent John McLeod (Anthony Hopkins) of the London police, whose wife and children are on the ship, races to uncover Juggernaut's identity.

A British production directed by Richard Lester, Juggernaut is ambitious but unsophisticated. Even allowing for some wacky plot points - such as refusing to consider a passenger evacuation in rough seas (because vessels are only evacuated in calm waters?) - the script by Richard Alan Simmons and Alan Plater is several drafts away from generating genuine thrills. The fault lies in too much emphasis on barrels and not nearly enough attention allocated to people. 

The list of passengers who are supposed to matter is exceptionally short. McLeod's wife (Caroline Mortimer) spends her time rolling her eyes at two unruly kids; a US politician-type (Clifton James) has a couple of gruff what's-going-on-here lines; and Shirley Knight floats around as a barely defined Captain's mistress. Meanwhile the ship's director of entertainment Curtain (Roy Kinnear) is the irritating clown-in-residence and the most prominent character (this is a bad thing). Whether any of them lives or dies is of no consequence, and an increasingly uneasy sense that maybe the entire premise is intended as a shaky satire starts to creep in. 

Back on shore, the investigative elements are also short-changed, Anthony Hopkins caught is his own sea of grey suits pursuing an uninteresting villain.

Richard Harris as bomb expert Anthony Fallon does his usual heavy-drinking I'm the best but dammit all to hell schtick, his audience consisting of a flummoxed Omar Sharif who never appears sure what he is supposed to be doing. Lester finally abandons most human context and focusses ever more tightly on the hardware, mass of wires, and trigger devices within the barrel bombs. The red wire or the blue wire, that is the question.

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