The Rock

Year: 1996
Production Co: Dom Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films
Director: Michael Bay
Producer: Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer
Writer: David Wesiberg/Douglas S Cook/Mar Rosney/Quentin Tarantino/Jonathan Hensleigh
Cast: Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, Ed Harris, Michael Biehn, David Morse, William Forsythe, John C McGinley

'Losers whine about doing their best. Winners go home and fuck the prom queen.' This was the last film Don Simpson was involved with, dying from massive heart failure thanks to a lifetime of substance abuse and excess as chronicled in Charles Fleming's brilliant 1999 book High Concept. Whether he had a hand in scripting that line or it was included as a sort of tribute to him is probably lost to the annals of history, but after coming to feel I know Simpson a little thanks to Fleming's work, the line spoken by Sean Connery's wrongly incarcerated British spy encapsulates his philosophy of life perfectly.

Simpson had no time for people who tried. He loved those who went in and did, the quarterback, the soldier, the ones who kicked arse and took names, got the girl and rode off into the sunset on their horse/F-14 tomcat/motorcycle.

Before Spielberg shepherded him to Transformers glory, Michael Bay was the perfect director for the Simpson/Bruckheimer stable, and had Simpson lived a lot longer, Bay and he would undoubtedly still be drinking, snorting and whoring buddies.

Ironically such machismo, ego and excess of testosterone made one of Bay's most serious and nuanced films. The American flag waving that characterised later efforts like Armageddon is kept mostly in check, and while he still loves his military technoporn, he restricts it to what a military guy once told me what the most realistic military behaviour and dialogue he'd seen in a movie.

One of Bay's biggest talents as a director has always been taking a given budget and making it seem much bigger than it really is through liberal use of crash zooms, MTV cuts and frenetic movement. So obviously a Simpson/Bruckheimer/Bay movie it's almost an ad for all their other movies. But with the trashiest producers who ever conquered Hollywood behind the scenes, you can bet it's a big, bag, loud, flashy, arse-kicking good time, American foreign policy writ large in one handy microcosm.

The pitch is simple (as always). Disgruntled military commander Harris wants the US government to recognise Iraqi veterans, so he takes over Alcatraz (the Rock of the title) and threatens to send chemical weapons careering into San Francisco unless his fallen comrades are formally honoured.

The powers that be send in two unlikely heroes – chemical weapons specialist with no combat experience Stanley Goodspeed (Cage) and a political prisoner and the only man to ever have escaped from Alcatraz Mason (Connery).

After a bunch of car chases, explosions and violence, the two can finally get to the business of breaking in and trying to bring the General under control and secure the missiles with more chases, guns and violence.

The famous producers and director all have a legion of detractors, but here's what Bay, Simpson and Bruckheimer got right in all their movies, something The Rock is a classic example of – there's little exposition, just story and action, and as silly as the story might be, you don't notice because you're being carried along by so many thrills. A bad thing? Not in a world where movies are entertainment.

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