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Suspenseful K-19 Celebrates Heroism, Humanity

  • Holly McClure Movie Reviewer
  • 2002 6 Jun
  • COMMENTS
Suspenseful <I>K-19</I> Celebrates Heroism, Humanity
K-19: The Widowmaker

Best for: Mature audiences who enjoy a character-driven war drama.

The plot: Based on a true story that took place in 1961 (when the Soviet Union had enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world two times over and the United States 10), the Soviet Navy assigns their elite pick Captain Alexi Vostrikov (Harrison Ford), to command the nuclear missile submarine K-19. Captain Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson), removed from command for reporting the ship isn't ready and refusing to take the boat out before repairs can be completed, is placed under Vostrikov. The submarine is the pride of the Soviet Navy, which is eager to use it as a propaganda response to America's war strategy, no matter what the costs.

Ten people die before the boat is launched, and immediately after the ship is at sea, numerous problems signal the mission is doomed. After several harrowing incidents, K-19 develops a leak in her reactor cooling system. Left unchecked, the leak could lead to a core meltdown of the reactor, with the potential to produce dangerous radiation and an intense radioactive explosion. Such an explosion could lead to a deadly military confrontation between the two super powers.

After losing 7 of his men when repairs are attempted, Vostrikov faces one of the most difficult decisions of his career: choose between the lives of his crew, or to follow his orders. Peter Sarsgaard and George Anton also star.

The good: Before going to this movie, I realized I was a bit prejudiced about seeing a story that would require me to root for a communist Russian submarine and its crew. As a child, I remember the cold war propaganda that viewed Russians as "the enemy," and even though that mindset in this country has clearly changed, I have to admit, I didn't think I would care about the story. That's why I have to hand it to director Kathryn Bigelow. She has created a suspenseful story full of humanity that explores the commitment these men had for their country, each other and their fellow human beings. Instead of turning this movie into a war story that only focuses on political intrigue and military suspense, Bigelow has created a story about heroism and humanity. The story exemplifies how complex a soldier's duty really is, the burden of responsibility that comes with leadership and the sacrifices that are made.

Bigelow has given the audience a way to relate to the Russian tragedy beyond the politics, and that's what makes this movie compelling. I likewise wasn't sure I could root for one of my favorite actors in a "bad guy" Russian officer role, but Ford's dramatic performance and ability to play "tough and tender" at the same time made him the perfect choice for the role. Neeson is also one of my favorites and (aside from believing a 6-foot-4-inch commander could function inside a small and narrow sub) likewise perfect for a strong character who exudes humanity, dignity and principles. He literally propels the story and makes it work.

One unusual scene (on a communist sub) shows a soldier kissing his crucifix and his commander telling him, "No religious icons accepted".

The focus is about what takes place on a submarine when tragedy strikes, perilous mistakes are made, and life and death decisions are weighed. It also shows how bravery creates heroes we never heard or read about, because Russia kept them a secret.

The bad: This is a sad story with intense scenes of men sacrificing their lives for each other and their country, so it's definitely not a drama for everyone. A few graphic scenes show flesh burning off bodies after exposure to radiation, and several scenes show men being hurt of killed by accidents both on and off the boat. This is not a war movie, although the trailers make it look like there's a lot of action; if you go expecting it to be that kind of movie you will be disappointed. It's not about a war they fight on the outside but rather the war (between right/wrong, patriotic/cowardly, moral/immoral) each man wages with himself on the inside.

Offensive language and behavior: Maybe I was too enthralled with the story, but I didn't hear any bad language, just a few crude exchanges between the men. Several gross scenes of men vomiting after they come out of the reactor chamber. A couple of men commit mutiny against the captain, but in a way, the reason is understandable.

Sexual situations: No sex, but there are two brief scenes of men "flashing" or mooning their bare behinds at an American helicopter and camera crew.

Violence: A man is run over by a truck and killed, and several men are exposed to radiation that literally eats them alive. Intense wartime threats but no actual violence.

Parental advisory: This story would bore your kids (and even some teens), but it's very interesting for mature adults who can appreciate the sacrifices that were made in the name of freedom.

It's a wrap: Like I said, I enjoyed this movie a lotmore than I thought I would, but it's definitely for adults! It has an interesting storyline, life and death situations and heroic loyalty from more than one character. Humanity wins out in the end. My kind of movie.