K-19: The Widowmaker


Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Written by:Christopher Kyle
Starring: Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson, Sam Spruell, Peter Stebbings, Christian Camargo
Released: November 7, 2002
Grade: B+

One of the co-producers of this film was the National Geographic Society.  I’m not sure whether there’s any correlation but the attention to detail in K-19: The Widowmaker is superb.  Usually, you don’t blink an eyelid - you just focus on the characters and the story.  But I found myself drawn to the backgrounds on this boat and the contraptions and electronic devices used to operate it.  It certainly looks realistic.

This film is a based on actual events of Russian soldiers on a Russian navy vessel, the K-19, in 1961.  At a time when nuclear weapons were being produced at a rapid rate, Russia wanted to show it could match it with the United States.  Despite not being fully tested, they sent the K-19 on a test mission to detonate a missile in the deep ocean.  It went successfully but Russian military leaders then asked the boat’s captain to position the sub off the American coastline for a potential attack.

At this point, it went horribly wrong.  A leak developed in the nuclear core.  The temperature was rising and if it rose above 1,000 degrees, it threatened to detonate the boat and everything within hundreds of miles.  Crew members gave their lives to enter the radioactive chamber and help repair the leak.  They were successful but 7 died with days and another 20 dies over the next two years.  It was the ultimate sacrifice for mankind.

It may be a Russian story but it wouldn’t help attract an audience by using Russian language and acting.  So they cast Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, give them cute accents, and yes, make the film in English for us to understand.  Their acting is pretty good and the story reminiscent of Crimson Tide with it’s “conflict on a submarine” issues.  It clocks in at over two hours in duration which can hurt a film these days.  Some of the early introductions could have been spared but it’s a good package overall.

Not to sound discriminatory but I was surprised to see K-19: The Widowmaker directed by a female, Kathryn Bigelow.  She has the experience of working on box-office success stories such as Point Break and underground cult hits such as Strange Days.  There isn’t a single female in this film which is why it’s so strange - not one at all.  There’s a picture of one but that’s it.  Quite bizarre.

Recommended for those who enjoy military stories that preach the truth rather than fiction.