The film takes place in 1994 (from several references made by the story) during a period of instability in Russia. Units of the Russian military loyal to an ultranationalist have taken control of a nuclear missile installation and are threatening nuclear war if either the American or the Russian government attempts to confront him.
The United States nuclear strategic missile submarine USS Alabama is assigned a patrol mission, to be available to launch its missiles in a preemptive strike if the Russian despot, Radchenko, attempts to fuel the missiles his men have captured. Captain Frank Ramsey (Hackman) is the commanding officer of the sub, and one of the few commanders left in the Navy with any combat experience. He chooses as his new executive officer (XO) Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter (Washington), who has an extensive education in military history and tactics, but no combat experience.
During their initial days at sea, tensions between Ramsey and Hunter become apparent due to a clash of personalities: Hunter's more analytical, cautious approach towards his mission and the men, as opposed to Ramsey's more impulsive, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants approach. The Alabama eventually receives an order to launch its missiles on the Russian nuclear installation, based on satellite information that the missiles are being fueled. Before the Alabama can launch, a second message arrives but is cut off by the attack of a Russian Akula-class attack submarine friendly to Radchenko. Too deep for communications, attacked by the hostile Akula and with an order in hand to launch, Captain Ramsey decides to proceed with the launch. Hunter refuses to concur as is procedurally required to launch, and instead tries to convince Ramsay to confirm the second message, which he believes is possibly a retraction of the previous launch order, arguing that even if they are late launching as a result, their backup submarine would do so as per the fleet's redundancy doctrine. As the command crisis escalates, Ramsey portrays the XO as an upstart Harvard graduate who does not respect his place in the chain of command.
When Hunter continues to refuse to consent to the missile launch, Ramsey tries to relieve him of duty and replace him with a different officer. Instead, Hunter orders the arrest of Ramsey for attempting to circumvent nuclear launch protocol. The Chief of the Boat ("Cob"), who is an old friend of Ramsey, agrees with Hunter and has the captain removed from the Con and locked in his stateroom. The crew is visibly shaken, but order is maintained.
As Hunter attempts to confirm the second launch message, the Russian Akula-class reappears. An underwater battle ensues, in which the Russian sub is destroyed, but the Alabama is heavily damaged. The ship's communications are knocked out, several crew members are killed, and the boat takes on water, nearly sinking past crush depth.
While Hunter waits for communications to be restored, officers loyal to the captain leave the Con together. Ramsey escapes confinement with their help to confront Hunter with charges of mutiny, placing the XO and the officers who assisted him under arrest.
Ramsey nearly succeeds in launching the missiles, prevented only when Hunter persuades the weapons officer to stall for time while he re-takes the bridge with mainly enlisted personnel by his side. In the end, a standoff ensues, and the conflicted officers agree to wait until the last possible moment to launch the missiles. The communications equipment is repaired in time and it is revealed that the Russian army has the situation under control and the rebellion is subdued, eliminating the need to launch the missiles.
The movie culminates in a review at the Pacific Fleet headquarters in Hawaii where several admirals express grave concern about the breakdown of command aboard the Alabama and nuclear launch operations in wartime. While the elder Ramsey voluntarily retires, and the young Hunter is recommended for a command by Ramsey, the movie aims to present the intractably uncertain nature of the launch scenario, in essence placing full blame on neither as well as both characters. A gentlemen's reconciliation between officers occurs at the closure of the film.
P/S : Filem hebat lakonan Denzel Washinton & Gene Hackman dan diarah oleh Tony Scot (Enemy of the State, Top Gun, Spy Game)