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"K-19: The Widowmaker"

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow.
Written by Christopher Kyle.
Starring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson. 
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  7/21/02 


As some of you may remember, I dogged my man Harrison Ford for trying on a Russian accent in the trailer for this film; while the accent is still quite shaky (then again, it IS Russian-accented English), the film is pretty solid.

Sub movies all seem to have similar elements, and like most in the last 15 years, the most similar element is that they all tend to be pretty good.  So, in the grand tradition of “The Hunt for Red October”, “Crimson Tide” and “U-571”, “K-19: The Widowmaker” has a great story, some cool special effects, a new twist on the genre and the backing of the tagline “inspired by real events.”  In 1961 Moscow, the government is putting the finishing touches on a first-strike nuclear submarine that is designed to combat the Americans’ growing nuclear arms threat worldwide.  The only problem is that their sub isn’t ready to go when it needs to be sent to, after demoting the current captain of the K-19 nuclear submarine (Liam Neeson), the government sends in cagey, stubborn loyalist Captain Vostrikov (Ford) to captain the ship.  The mission?  Complete the ship’s training at sea and fire a test missile to confirm the ship’s readiness before being sent to defend “the motherland” of Russia.

Of course, the film’s depth lies not at 250 meters but in the sheer absurdity of the problems that the boat has before leaving Moscow.  The script and the direction by Kathryn Bigelow (“Point Break” is the high, “Strange Days” is the low) is excellent at pointing out all of the details of the boat that could use some work; since this is based on a true story, it makes you really wonder why anyone would have let this submarine go to sea.  But, off to sea it goes, and Vostrikov is forced to put out fire after fire—sometimes, literally—in order to complete the ship’s mission.  This leads to several tense moments during the film, almost all of which is staged well and once again make a submarine look like a 40-acre underground maze.  The film’s score is excellent and feels like a Russian Cold War score should sound; good, since the score is performed by a Russian orchestra and choir.

The film’s greatest strength lies in its acting performances, and Liam Neeson is by far the film’s biggest asset.  Ever since one of my favorite movies growing up, “Krull” (yes!!!), and then in the cult action film “Darkman”, Neeson has been one of my favorites.  He gives “K-19” so much weight as the second-in-command & crew favorite, especially in his opening scene, where he stands up for the men’s failure to run the ship correctly during a trial run by defiantly offering his name only for the list of guys that screwed things up.  Neeson is good here and I think he actually has more scenes than Ford.  Ford is pretty good as well, if anything because he plays slightly against type as a loyal officer, not necessarily a nice guy.  The no-name actors that play members of the crew are solid as well, and the sequence featuring problems with the sub’s nuclear reactor is emotional, to say the least.

“K-19” is pretty long and the film’s end sequence could be trimmed in a couple of places.  Maybe it’s just me, but why is there a number on the side of this sub that isn’t 19?  I just don’t get naming subs at all, but couldn’t Bigelow just throw in one scene to tell me why?  In addition to Ford, many of the actors don’t keep their Russian accent going Personally, I would have thrown in some reaction from the American side of the sub/nuclear arms debate, but much like “Black Hawk Down”, you don’t require storytelling from both sides of the fence in order to make your film work.  Otherwise, this is another great addition to adult-themed adventure films for the summer, joining “The Sum of All Fears”, “Minority Report”, and the recent adult thriller “Road to Perdition.”

Rating:  $9.00 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09