Rakesh's movie talk
K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)

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Directed by Kathryn Begelow
Written by Christopher Kyle (based on story by Lous Nowra)
Starring Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson and Joss Ackland

Amongst many sub genres of suspense thriller movies that come out of Hollywood factory, one that very rarely gets released is the Submarine (sub) films. Like a phoenix, it rises very few times in a decade. During the eighties, we had Das Boot and Hunt for The Red October. In the nineties, I can remember only one, Crimson Tide. Now, bringing the Star Power, Hollywood released K19: The Widowmaker, based on a real incident aboard a Russian nuclear sub.

Forget the sub genre, this film is closer to the paranoia and near-Armageddon threats found in the excellent Thirteen Days. The other sub movies had external enemies to fight, but here the captain and crew of K19 had to fight their fear. The internal enemy. In this manner Katherine Bigelow did a fine job bringing terror among the crew of the fateful submarine.

Leading the cast is Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, two very established actors in Hollywood, and, in Neesons case, also in the other side of the Atlantic. Feed them the poorest line and you can see them working around it. In this movies case, the twos characters develop Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian tension. A mutiny lurking around the corner. Both work well on working on that, no shouting and screams of Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman, or the cold, intelligent camaraderie of Sam Neil and Sean Connery in Hunt for Red October. Forgive me, for I am making an unfair comparison.

Set in 1961, the movie takes full advantage of the rising tension of the Cold War. It is loosely based on a real incident. A new Soviet nuclear sub is commissioned before it is fully workable. The original captain, Polenin (Liam Neeson) is aware that there are plenty of problems in his ship and refuse to let the sub out for actual run. He is seen as an insubordinate captain by authorities and they put Capt. Alexei Vostrikove (Harrison Ford) in charge, therefore outranking Polenin.

The men of the ship are still loyal to Polenin and accepts him as the real captain, and Polenin himself gets caught in the dilemma between the crew and the stubborn, authoritative captain. For a moment I thought the tension between Neeson and Ford was going to the level of imitating Washington/Hackman verbal shootouts in Crimson Tide. But thank god, no. The issue is something else here. Their nuclear sub develops radiation leakage, and all hell breaks loose. From this moment on, the movie would excite even the most cynical reviewer of a good thriller. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the submarine is exploited in every possible manner by director Bigelow. This, coupled with superb cinematography, makes us feel trapped like the men in the sub. Everyone is seen in close-ups. The sweat, the fear, the insecurity of the leaders is flashed to us audiences in the shadow abruptly and it is very disturbing.

While the thriller machinery is going, the movie explores the question of loyalty and bravery? Who is the real hero and who is not? What comes first? Loyalty to the party and the country or plain, human efforts to save other lives? While the recognisable stars like Neeson and Ford work well with the genre which they can sleep walk with the performance, the other supporting actors do an extremely credible job playing the affected crew. Kudos again to the director.

I wish they have avoided the closing scene, where in the 1980's the captain has a reunion with his surviving men and we are again told what a bunch of heroes they are. It's nice to see Ford and Neeson in their old-age make up, but the feel good factors only nauseate me further. I suppose this would help with the box-office collections and this film seriously needs it.