K-19: The Widowmaker
- compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2002 1 Jan
Speaking of the Force, Harrison Ford returns in
But McClure was impressed with the film and stirred by its suspenseful story. Should we be concerned if we find ourselves cheering for nuke-bearing Communists? The soldiers on board the
It's not the first time this has happened. The predicament of German sailors in
But there is more to it than that. War films that take us outside the usual good-guy/bad-guy dynamic can cultivate in us an ability to sympathize with our enemies. The metal confines of a sub's fragile and claustrophobia-inducing space remind us of how much we have in common with those of different political and religious convictions. Such sub-surface limitations reveal fears familiar to us, and the intensity of the drama inspires virtuous heroics that cannot help but move us. Our feelings about their political orientation become secondary to our understanding of the risks they take. J. Robert Parks (Phantom Tollbooth) says, "For some folks, rooting for the Soviets in 1961 might seem odd, but those concerns are soon outweighed by the difficult situation the men find themselves in." He concludes, "
We should definitely keep clear in our minds the flaws in the philosophies and tactics of our enemies. But surely we can find room in our hearts for sympathy. Christ's exhortation goes even further than "sympathy." He wants us to love our enemies. It might be a good exercise for our hearts to imagine this sub being full of men who are currently opposing us—Osama bin Laden's trained terrorists, for example. Might we find the courage to love and pray for them in the midst of their error? (My full review of the film is at Looking Closer.)
Many critics have lined up to ridicule
Others complain that this film doesn't measure up to the action and suspense we've seen in past submarine-bound war films like
Cliff Vaughn (Ethics Daily) says, "The submarine feels appropriately claustrophobic; the mission resonates with a sense of doom; and opportunities for courage and cowardice play as gravely as they surely were. [The movie] runs a little too long, eschews subtext at times, and suffers a bit from dim characterizations. But like the crew that manned the ship in 1961, it manages not to crack under pressure."
Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) also offers a mixed response: "It's hard to be unmoved by what the men of the K-19 go through, but it's equally hard to overlook the glaring flaws in the human drama. As an exercise in logistics and adversity,
Likewise, Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says that "something is missing. The film simply fails to subject its audience to the same nerve-wracking emotional pressure that its characters face."
But Elliott adds that Ford and Neeson "give studied, controlled performances." I have to agree—I was thrilled to see the return of Harrison Ford the compelling actor. Ford has seemed miscast, disappointing, and even dull in all of his films since
Steven Isaac (Focus on the Family) argues that the dominance of Hollywood fiction over historical fact disrupts the experience. "You just can't bring yourself to trust what your eyes are beholding." He points out that retired Russian submariners are protesting the film's inaccuracies. A group spokesman says, "This film isn't about Russians, but about how Americans want to see Russians."
John Evans (Preview) calls it "an inspiring story of courage and heroism." But he is most impressed by "the complete lack of foul language. It proves that foul language is not necessary for a film to be highly realistic."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' critic reports that the film is "not gripping. Ford is stiff in the role, grimly enunciating with a passable Russian accent, but never looking convincing or comfortable in his portrayal of the stoic sub commander." And Ted Baehr (Movieguide) claims, "The accents are atrocious" and "There are long sections of boredom in this overlong movie." He goes even farther, claiming the film is pro-Communist.
Mainstream critics were divided on the same issue. John Powers (L.A. Weekly) says, "
Not everyone agrees. "It would be a grave mistake to view
O'Hehir also points out how the film transcends the politics of the situation to highlight the bravery of a few men who risked their lives to prevent an apocalypse that would destroy far more than the motherland. "Of course the Hollywood party line is that
Peter T. Chattaway (Vancouver Courier) says, "The film is longer than it needs to be, thanks to a gratuitous epilogue, and it plays into that
David Bruce (Hollywood Jesus) examines how the story shows God working great things for the world by changing the heart of one man. "The centerpiece in the film is the transformation of the Harrison Ford character from a heartless institutional man to a caring individual. Somehow God is in the backdrop of history working things out. This film illustrates in graphic detail just how close we came to blowing up Planet Earth. In every crisis event God is there, truly. Otherwise humanity would simply no longer exist."