Inspired by real events. At the height of the Cold War in 1961,Captain Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson) is replaced by Captain Alexei Vostrikov (Harrison Ford) as commander of nuclear sub K-19, when the Soviet leadership decides he isnít readying their flagship sub fast enough for her maiden voyage. Remaining on board as executive officer, Polenin clashes with Vostrikov repeatedly, but both share a deep dedication to their country. After taxing drills and the successful launch of a test missile, K-19 receives orders to take its position off the US coastline between Washington and New York. Unaware that the submarine has been damaged, Vostrikov obeys and as they near their destination, the atomic reactorís cooling system springs a leak threatening to set off missile warheads, which in turn could trigger World War III.
Review by Louise Keller:
A powerful drama about events surrounding the malfunction of the Russian super sub, K-19, nicknamed The Widowmaker, is a disturbing and insightful look at real events and how true valour averted warfare. It may take a few minutes to fully accept and come to terms with Harrison Ford and Liam Neesonís Russian accents, but once accepted, the film quickly develops into a powderkeg of conflicts Ė command, confidence and courage. From the ocean floor to the bowels of the enclosed submarine, the atmosphere is claustrophobic and scenes of seamen playing football on ice in the fresh air at surface level, are a welcome diversion from the intensity of life below. Even the laundry is hung out to dry in perhaps the filmís only light-hearted moments. Neeson towers above the entire crew - physically as well as morally - as the former captain whose command is set aside to accommodate the heavy handed style of Fordís Captain Alexei Vostrikov. The pressure escalates far beyond that of the onboard nuclear reactor crisis, and we are witness to horrific scenes as the sailors attempt to repair the reactor in pairs, in death defying 10 minute snatches. We become involved through personal stories that display vulnerabilities, tenacity and different temperaments. Our heartbeats rise as does the radiation levels and temperatures. Through monumental life and death decisions, Vostrikov pushes his men to the edge, even when it isnít clear where the edge actually is. Itís a tense and gripping two-hours-plus. K-19 is a story about heroes Ė in different moulds Ė some are more obvious than others. The credibility of the two commanding men lies in the hands of Neeson and Ford, who both deliver excellent, subtle performances. The development of their relationship is handled with care, and the journey both men undertake is a satisfying and somewhat surprising one. K-19 may bear a few scars of its Hollywood production, but itís an effecting and hard-hitting drama with a non trivial theme with an eye-opening and revelatory outcome.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If you laid all the WWII movies end to end, by now youíd be watching movies for as long as the war itself. And still they come: and still weíre watching stories of extraordinary courage, of hellish conditions, of men taken to the brink and beyond, of hideous anguish and horrible deaths. And still the wars go on. And still the Hollywood studios cast famous stars to play commanding officers of foreign powers, speaking American with a Russian accent to diddle us into fantasising that they are actually speaking Russian, but we can understand, via the magic of cinema. It says something for the producers that they donít trust their audience to come unless itís done like this. Or, if theyíre right, it says something about their audience. So while I sit there thinking how much more powerful and engaging this film would be with actors (not stars) speaking their native language Ė and thus delivering through the nuance of that language all the cultural and personal resonances of their world Ė others are finding it easier to consume, not having to read the subtitles. No pain, no gain, I say. That aside, Kathryn Bigelow has made a fearsome film of an incident which took the world uncomfortably close to a nuclear war just when I was getting into my teenage stride. Itís a credit to the stars that they retain enough of our credulity to make the film effective, gripping and even thought provoking, considering so much of the thinking is already done for us. Technically excellent, K-19 pings with memories of the Cold War and reminds us of manís stupidity as well as his capacity for nobility. But WWIII is still on the cards.
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TRAILER ; FEATURE - Eleanor Singer reports
SOUNDTRACK REVIEW by Brad Green
CAST: Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson, Sam Spruell, Peter Stebbings, Joss Ackland
PRODUCER: Kathryn Bigelow, Edward S. Fedlman, Chris Whitaker
DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow
SCRIPT: Christopher Kyle (Louis Nowra story)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jeff Cronenweth
EDITOR: Walter Murch
MUSIC: Klaus Badelt
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Karl Juliusson, Michael Novotny
RUNNING TIME: 138 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 7, 2002
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
VIDEO RELEASE: April 25, 2003 (Also on DVD)