Kursk: The Last Mission


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Kursk: The Last Mission
"While the tension of the build up to the initial disaster on the submarine is well-handled, Vinterberg struggles to dovetail that with his other plot lines." | Photo: Signature Entertainment

Thomas Vinterberg has certainly come a long way from his stripped back Dogme 95 manifesto, co-written with Lars von Trier, when it comes to the CGI bells and whistles used for this retelling of the Kursk Russian submarine disaster of 2000, not to mention its big, atmospheric score from Alexandre Desplat.

The end result, while respectful to those who lost their lives, is, perhaps as a consequence, a muted affair which, though well acted, has a script by Robert Rodat (adapting from A Time To Die by Robert Moore) that feels like it's checking off items on a Submarine Disaster Movie inventory list. It's not that you know how the film is going to end that causes the problem but the fact that you can guess chunks of dialogue. Recurring devices, such as the lead character's watch, are also so unsubtly used that they might as well be picked out in neon.

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The family set-up is strong, as we meet Matthias Schoenaerts' Mikhail as he plays around with his son and pregnant wife Tanya (Léa Seydoux). Vinterberg and cinematographer Anthony Dodd Mantle keep the camera work free and easy - although the director's choice of a confined aspect ration that expands aboard the submarine before contracting back again towards the end of the film is counterintuitive and unnecessary. A wedding demonstrates the camaraderie between the crew and their families, tight in the way that armed forces communities often are.

Cracks begin to show as the action sails off in different directions. While the tension of the build up to the initial disaster on the submarine is well-handled, Vinterberg struggles to dovetail that with his other plot lines. This leaves the families' fight with the authorities for information on land struggling for air against a second drama that is unfolding on a British vessel led by Commodore David Russell (Colin Firth, making you wish he'd been around to act alongside the likes of Richard Attenborough and Peter Finch). He is trying to offer rescue help to his old Russian naval friend Admiral Vyacheslav Grudzinsky (Toni Erdmann's Peter Simonischek).

Every time the action is on the submarine itself, immersed in the kind of old school bravery and comradeship that recalls Das Boot, the film becomes gripping, not least thanks to some excellent sound design work that allows silence to cut through Desplat's score at just the right moments. The mood elsewhere fails to gel, with a euro pudding vibe to the casting - which also includes Max Von Sydow, Michael Nyqvist and Steven Waddington - not helping. The handling of the political situation also has the touch of a kid glove, while the underlying "will no one think of the children" philosophy could do with more beef. It's all perfectly watchable but hampered by cliche and a feeling of a filmmaking team treading so carefully they struggle to leave a mark.

Reviewed on: 18 Jul 2019
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Kursk: The Last Mission packshot
Retelling of the Kursk submarine disaster.
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Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Writer: Robert Rodat, based on A Time To Die by Robert Moore

Starring: Matthias Schoenaerts, Léa Seydoux, Peter Simonischek, August Diehl, Max von Sydow, Colin Firth, Bjarne Henriksen, Magnus Millang, Artemiy Spiridonov, Joel Basman, Pit Bukowski, Matthias Schweighöfer, Tom Hudson, Chris Pascal, Kristof Coenen

Year: 2018

Runtime: 117 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: Belgium, Luxembourg


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