The true story of the K-19 Soviet Submarine is told from Hollywood's perspective, and the result is about as expected.
"K-19: The Widowmaker" stars Harrison Ford as Captain Alexei Vostrikov and Liam Neeson as his executive officer. They embark on the maiden voyage of Russia's first nuclear submarine, only to find them facing problem after problem as their country cut corners to get it released quicker. While thousands of miles from home, the water pressure inside the reactor breaks down, which in turn cuts off the temperature controls. If the temperature escalates too high, a nuclear explosion could occur, not only killing the crew but also forcing a retaliatory move on the part of NATO and the United States.
Since this is a movie about the Soviet Union from Hollywood's point of view, many of the stereotypes of communists remain. The way the officers talk is always direct and somewhat cliché; they speak of Mother Russia as if it is their only pride in life. In reality, I am sure these men also thought of their families and so forth (while still being patriotic). Perhaps this is how the officers in the Soviet Navy actually spoke, but I doubt it; either way, some of the dialogue seems forced. Nevertheless, "K-19" is still pretty fair in representing the crewmembers. These men were heroes; many of them sacrificed their lives to save the rest of the crew. This is just like any other submarine movie; the actors just tend to have Russian accents (not necessarily good ones, but hell, it would make too much sense to have Russian actors, huh?).
In fact, the only characters that seemed a little weak were the two stars, Ford and Neeson. Neither of them have very effective Russian accents, and neither have very deep characters. Neeson benefits a little more as he is given some big choices to decide upon, but Ford is pretty much reduced to a captain that does the same thing as every other new captain does in every submarine movie ever made; he pushes the limits of the submarine, freaking out the crew and not necessarily winning over their respect. Though Ford is the main character, it seems as though we are looking at him from the crew's perspective; we never get to see the depth of his character.
Overall, though, I was surprisingly pleased with "K-19: The Widowmaker." I love Harrison Ford, but I was not expecting a whole lot out of him and did not get much. However, the movie itself is fairly entertaining and dramatic, especially when the radioactive burns start coming into play. I really felt for most of the characters.
I think it was a mistake to advertise "K-19" as another Harrison Ford action thriller, because it really is not. It is a true-life story to some level or another, and thus is built more around character than action. The movie never really attains the excitement level that most submarine movies reach, and thus lags in a few parts, and had there been more real Russian actors involved, it might have been a little more believable. Nonetheless, "K-19: The Widowmaker" is a decent action-drama that gives us at least a glimpse into the Soviet Navy for once; it is worth seeing on video.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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