K-19: The Widowmaker

K-19: The Widowmaker

***

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Just in case you didn't know, this is not about the third highest mountain in the world and how an intrepid Irishman climbs the fearsome Devil's Horn alone in a single day, with advice and moral support from a reclusive American mountaineer, now crippled after a fall, and the love of a little-known East European actress, last seen as casino decoration in the last James Bond. It's about a nuclear submarine.

The story is true, or so they say. In 1961, K-19 was the pride of the Russian fleet. Later, it's name was not allowed to be mentioned. What happened was erased from the national consciousness... until now.

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Kathryn Bigelow is a director who specialises in stylised violence and movies with two-word titles - Near Dark, Blue Steel, Point Break, Strange Days. Her films are never ponderous. "Rules are meant to be broken, boundaries are meant to be invaded, envelopes meant to be pushed, preconceptions challenged," she said. She was younger then.

She portrays the Russians as deeply serious individuals, who lecture each other on duty and discipline. The bigwigs in the Kremlin are boorish morons. The bigwigs in the sub are at each other's throats.

This is a story of selfless courage in the face of cataclysmic disaster. It could have been about Chernobyl. It could have been about the Kursk. The underlying theme is man's ability to rise above the politics of power in defence of honest-to-God humanity.

There are no women here. Tension is provoked by the antagonism between Capt Alexei Vostrikov (Harrison Ford) and Capt Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson). Vostrikov is from the old school, a committed Communist, who would never corrupt the honour of Mother Russia for personal popularity, or allow emotion to cloud judgement. Polenin is a hands-on Navy man, who respects the sailors under his command. He is firm, but fair.

The film is well made, without being innovative. Neeson is passionate and Ford straight down the line. They do what they have to do as well as you would expect.

The final sequence is unnecessary and embarrassing, but otherwise Bigelow handles the project with professional competence. What is missing is surprise. She used to be strong on that.

Reviewed on: 24 Oct 2002
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True story of Russia nuclear sub that experienced possible catastrophic radiation leak in the Sixties.
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Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Writer: Christopher Kyle

Starring: Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson, Sam Spruell, Peter Stebbings, Christian Camargo, Peter Sarsgaard, Joss Ackland, Roman Podhora

Year: 2002

Runtime: 138 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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