K-19: Widow Maker

5 out of 10


Cold War Voyage of Doom

Like the North American "Indians" in the 1930`s Westerns, the Russian soldier has always been the epitome of the Hollywood bad guy`s henchmen, a soulless and stupid grunt who is there to take the hero`s bullets and die in droves. As in "Enemy at the Gates", the true story of "K19" shows the Russian serviceman as humans, real people with real lives with real families, as the crew of a striken Russian nuclear sub, trying to stay affloat, alive and out of the hands of their arch-enemies, the Americans, against all the odds and despite a Government heirarchy that neither functions nor cares. With 10 dead even and their own beloved Captain demoted to serve under a careerist Captain who married the niece of a ruling Politburo and has something to prove even before it sets sail, K19`s maiden voyage makes that of the "Titanic" look uneventful by comparison, with a reactor meltdown, flashfire in the Torpedo room and a mutiny to name but three of the numerous incidents.

Playing the hated and hard Captain Alexi Vostrikov, Harrison Ford, the actor whose films have grossed more than any other, makes a departure from his traditional role as the all-American hero, with Liam Neeson (title role in Schindler`s list) as the stressed first officer, Polenin and ex-Captain. Dogged by an interferring Political commissar who can`t even do his own job, Polenin, the only one who seems to have any clue how to do anything aboard, finds himself trying to fit a square peg in a round hole as he tries to temper the sharpness of Vostikov, and pursuade the crew to do what is clearly not in their own interests, and still get as many back alive as possible under the worst possible conditions.

Within the plot, it is suggested that if the crippled submarine actually sinks, it could cause the missile onboard to detonate and trigger a Third World War, but somehow it seems like a lame attempt by Hollywood to breathe some action into the film, for it truly drags. However it is portrayed in the trailers and advertising, it`s definitely not an action movie, but one of intense drama, and one that is clearly overlong. In many ways, this and many of the other current war pics show a tendency to drift back to a style of thinking in line with the era of Rudyard Kipling in the Nineteenth Century. It is not the success or failure of the mission, or even the specific events that are at the core of the plot, but the endurance and perseverence of those serving, the ordinary guys in the line, and it conveys the claustrophobic environment and crisis so well, that when the Americans appear at the end, they really do appear as they would have done to the Soviet sailors as Johnny-come-lately cowboys who have always had it easy all their lives. Even so, it remains a sad fact, that the slow pace makes this a film that will not appeal to most audiences.

Slow, but interesting drama

Film Critic: Robert L Thompsett