Thursday, December 5, 2013

K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)

K-19: The WidowmakerThis exceptional film is inspired by tragic historical events. The screenplay is a composite, based equally on two separate Soviet naval disasters. The first, obviously, is the 1961 "cursed" maiden mission of K-19, Russia's pioneer nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine. The second is a narrowly-averted catastrophe of 1986, involving the decrepit "Yankee-class" boomer, K-219. Ironically, the movie was also nearly scuttled -before it even began production. The rough draft contained every Slavophobic stereotype and Cold War cliche', and was bitterly protested by K-19's surviving officers. They wtote a series of open letters to the producers and actors, inviting them to Russia to hear their real story. When director Katheryn Bigalow met these aging veterans and the widow of their recently-deceased Captain, she resolved to film a tribute to their courage. Much of the film's reference material comes from two superb books written by Capt. Peter Huchthausen USN-ASW (ret.): "K-19: The Widowmaker"; and "Hostile Waters". The former contains the translated memoir of Captain Nikolai Zateyev (real-life CO of the ill-fated sub) with an addendum about the film. The latter, co-authored with Capt. Igor Kurdin and novelist Robin White, tells the amazing story of K-219. I urge viewers to read both books for an even greater appreciation of the movie! You'll see that Harrison Ford is a dead-ringer for Zateyev, both physically and personality-wise. He commands the role of Vostrikov (Zateyev) to perfection. Liam Neeson's character, Capt. 2nd Rank Polenin, appears strongly based on K-219's Captain Igor Britanov, who was the compassionate father-figure popular with his crew. The Captains' contrasting styles of leadership provide the conflict in the film. Hollywood melodramatization is apparently obligatory, even when true events provide drama aplenty. The mutiny's only basis in reality concerned a dispute over whether to head the stricken K-19 for a Norwegian port or toward the last-known operational area of Soviet diesel submarines. A core meltdown, while not producing a "thermonuclear explosion", would have released a massive cloud of atomic contamination. K-19's disaster occurred far from any American interests, but K-219's runaway reactor threatened to dust the entire Eastern Seaboard with lethal plutonium. K-19's valiant third-watch did cobble together a makeshift cooling system in just the manner depicted. A fire did break out. And K-19's men suffered horrifying radiation poisoning within the core so hot as to boil their bodily fluids. But the character of Vadim Rodchenko, the young Reactor Officer who conquers paralyzing fear, clearly honors the memory of another engineer. K-219's Seaman Sergei Preminin manually shut down his overheating reactor, sacrificing his life to save Americans from a Chernobyl-in-a-tin-can mere miles off our coast. It was K-219's Britanov who defied Moscow's orders to halt evacuation, and decided to sink his sub to deprive the circling enemy of its prize. And although K-19's crew was absolved of blame and even decorated for their actions, K-219's Catain and officers were persecuted by the unforgiving Soviet system depicted in the film. Thus, while "K-19: The Widowmaker" is not entirely true to its namesake, it accurately portrays the life-and-death scenario which repeatedly plagued the USSR during the Cold War. In its desperation to play "catch-up" with its vastly superior American counterpart, the Soviet Navy would continue to risk its young submariners in hastily-designed, shoddily-built, or outright obsolete boats. Katheryn Bigalow and National Geographic deserve credit for showing the American audience the human side of these young seamen and officers who were just as gallant, dedicated, and patriotic as our own. We care about them, salute their heroism, and mourn their loss. "K-19" is visually magnificent and emotionally compelling. An absolutely spellbinding drama. You'll want the video, but see the film today before it leaves the Big Screen!

After scanning some reviews I've decided to add my 2 cents, since I just got the DVD & saw the movie for the first time. To those who say it has very similar elements already visited in films such as "Crimson Tide," "U-571", etc., my reaction to that is, yes, you're right. The first half hour of this movie I was a bit concerned about where it was going. It had the "been here, done that" feel to it in regards to other "sub movies." I didn't buy Ford's accent at first (why? Because I know him from other movies, whereas if some unknown actor played the role, I wouldn't have questioned the authenticity or even the accent delivery at all), but as time passed, I didn't notice it as much and thought it was fine. In regards to the why do Americans put accents on in the first place when speaking English, it's really no big mystery, it simply adds to the setting. I suppose if you went the other extreme and gave them all harsh U.S. Southern accents, it would pull you even further away from believing in who they are portraying, so it's just like an extra prop that enhances the presentation.

To those historic critics who try to rip up every attempt Hollywood makes to tell a story, I have this to say: Sad as it may be, but if I had not seen "Schindler's List," I would not have as much an appreciation for the Holocaust. I don't read much history, so if Hollywood with it's jaded glitz & glamour can emotionally move me to appreciate a moment of history, then so be it! And speaking of important moment's of history, you should check out "Uprising," another great historic drama that deserves attention (about the Jewish ghetto uprising).

At any rate, now for why I give K-19 five stars. I enjoyed the drama, the tension, the cast, and the story. It's that simple. I still think "U-571" is the best sub movie I've ever seen, perhaps because of how tightly the movie went with not a second of downtime, but K-19 is a more human, dramatic story that is important to see. The DVD has several documentaries on how they made the movie that should be seen by the history critics, as it certainly seems like they did much research on the topics & history before shooting the film. If the director had a gap, then it needed to be filled, and a story has to be interesting or it becomes a bad movie. Never will everyone be happy, and that's why most reviews will differ. So take it from a person who watches movies to be entertained, moved, and even educated at times, K-19 is an excellent movie.

Buy K-19: The Widowmaker (2002) Now

K19: THE WIDOWMAKER is a most impressive debut for National Geographic Feature Films, one of the movie's principal production partners.

The story is based on a Cold War event kept secret for decades. It's 1961, and the Soviet's first atomic powered ballistic missile submarine, the K-19, is scheduled for an operational shakedown cruise in the North Atlantic. The USSR wants to show the United States that the latter is not the only world power with waterproof big guns, so to speak, seeing as how the U.S. Navy has put Polaris subs within missile-lobbing range of Leningrad and Moscow.

Filmed in Canada and Moscow, this "Hollywood" version of the story has Captain Polenin (Liam Neeson) as commander of the K19 while it's still under construction in Murmansk. In a bad career move, he's vociferously unhappy about the quality of the boat's construction, and outspokenly suggests it's not ready for its first sea trial. Enter Captain Vostrikov (Harrison Ford), an in-law of a Politburo big shot, who takes command with Polenin as his executive officer. The submarine is duly launched, though the champagne bottle fails to break a harbinger of bad luck, and off it goes to prove itself as the newest protector of the Motherland. At first, it looks like the operational sea trial will be a smashing triumph when the K19 successfully launches one of its three ballistic missiles. Take that, you Yankee imperialist dogs! But then, on its way under new orders to take up a patrol station off the eastern U.S. seaboard, the K19 develops a leak in its nuclear reactor's cooling system that gives a new dimension to the phrase "in hot water".

Borrowing and fixing up an actual Russian sub on permanent display in Florida (only in America!) for the exterior shots, and re-creating ten submarine compartments accurate down to the smallest details for the interior camera work, the producers of K19: THE WIDOWMAKER have achieved perhaps the most authentic looking sub film since DAS BOOT. (The interior sets of the film make Sean Connery's "Red October" look like the starship Enterprise.) And, something you don't see every day, there are no female players to clutter things up with mushy stuff outside of a very brief scene where the girls left behind are kissing the sailors good-bye. Otherwise, this is all Guy Stuff spearheaded by two superb performances from Ford and Neeson. Though the former will be perceived as the actor in the leading role, Neeson is right there breathing down his neck, and an argument could be made to nominate both for an Oscar in the Leading Role category. Perhaps not since HEAT (Pacino and De Niro) have two major male stars played so powerfully well together.

K19 serves to remind Americans that in the Cold War, or any war, heroism, sacrifice, honor and duty are not attributes limited to just the home team. I consider it the best major film I've seen to date for the 2002 film season.

Read Best Reviews of K-19: The Widowmaker (2002) Here

In a summer movie season full of superheroes, "K-19" tells the tale of some ordinary Russian submariners whose real-life heroics may just have actually saved the world. In a refreshing change, the story is told totally from a Russian point of view. There are no annoying intrusions of an American point of view anywhere in the film.

It does take a while to get used to their accents, but Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson both give convincing performances of Soviet submarine captains who have two very different views of how a ship should be run. They both had me so into their performances, that by the time a crucial event occurs late in the film, I was totally on their side. I almost felt like a traitor to my own country, but it gave me a great insight into the loyalty people in the military must feel towards their country. I have been so use to seeing Russians demonized, that perhaps K-19's best accomplishment might be the way it humanizes the Russians. The sailors onboard K-19 are real people with real emotions, just like us.

"K-19" is by no means an easy film to watch. The humor is minimal but befitting of a film whose ultimate villain is nothing to laugh at. If you wonder why nobody wants nuclear waste buried in their backyard, you will have no doubt why after you have seen this film. Perhaps this film would have played better in the greyness of the winter season, but its message cannot be ignored no matter when you see it. Director Kathryn Bigelow and her very talented cast have made a film that not only is worth seeing, but that just might be what I call "good for you." In a season normally reserved for mind-numbing entertainment, "K-19" delivers an intelligent,exciting, and inspiring tale of heroism that is the most powerfully, emotional film I have seen since "Life is Beautiful."

Want K-19: The Widowmaker (2002) Discount?

1961. The Russian submarine K19, stocked with nuclear missiles, is about to embark upon its maiden mission: to scare the US by test-firing one of the missiles in the North Atlantic. The mission is complicated by the military's rushed schedule and the K19 is scheduled to sail in less-than-perfect operating condition. Harrison Ford is the star and executive producer in this edge-of-your-seat film. Both Ford and Liam Neeson star as Soviet Navy Captains. Ford relieves Neeson at the helm and the two butt heads, challenging each other for command. Ford drills the crew obsessively to prepare them for potential crisis. Like APOLLO 13, this mission was cursed from the beginning. Ten men were killed before the K19 had even left port. The nickname "Widowmaker" was established before its maiden voyage. After they set sail, everything goes wrong. The nuclear reactor cooling system sprung a leak, threatening to raise the core temperature to 1,000 degrees. This would detonate the nuclear weapons, starting a chain reaction leading to WWIII. The crewmen must go on a suicide rescue mission into the core and repair the leak, exposing themselves to massive doses of radiation.

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (Pointe Break and Strange Days), "K19" was inspired by a real-life Cold War incident. The actual crew was sworn to secrecy for 28 years. In 1989, with the fall of communism, the crew of the K19 were finally able to discuss the events of their mission and put it to rest.

Prior to seeing this film, I heard negative reports regarding Harrison Ford's so-called Russian accent. Let's try to see beyond the accents and experience what the film is really about. The K19 is on its maiden voyage and wasn't truly ready to sail. The crew is young, inexperience and scared. Their acting captain and the man they know and trust as their captain are in the showdown of their lives. Ford and Neeson should be proud of their performance that put them in line with the classic showdowns of Clark Gable/Burt Lancaster (1958-"Run Silent, Run Deep") and Denzel Washington/Gene Hackman (1995-"Crimson Tide"). This film has spectacular sound effects and special underwater effects that made me hold my breath like I did with "U-571". Outstanding cinematography, fabulous acting and casting. A wonderfully told story.

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