K-19: The Widowmaker
Grade: B+
Year: 2002
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Louis Nowra
Genre: Thriller
Rated: PG-13

The Widowmaker is another "based on actual events" war movie about some incredible event nobody has ever heard of. This is a true inspirational film that tests how far man will go to defend his country and to what barriers he will break in order to follow the commands of his captain.

Harrison Ford, former United States President in Air Force One - is now Captain Alexi Vostrikov, commander of the K-19, Russia's first nuclear missile carrying submarine. His mission is to take the submarine out to sea and fire off a test missile. It is the height of the cold war and the Russians are desperately trying to catch up to the Americans who lead the world in nuclear arms.

After we see a successful launch, the K-19 gets new orders to patrol the eastern coast as a way of showing the Americans that any strikes from them will result in immediate retaliation. These new orders come in while at sea and give the crew no time to prepare for it. The vessel was prematurely commissioned without crucial equipment such as backup systems for when things fail, no emergency manuals for the equipment, and the real killer; no radiation suits.

K-19 goes the distance to reveal the way of life for Russians back when communism was strong. If a soldier was caught praying or carrying a religious "icon" with him, he could be sent to prison. Russians fought for one thing, the Motherland, and would do anything to fight for her. They despised Americans and practically everybody else whose government was democratic.

K-19 is a movie about pain and torture. Director Kathryn Bigelow tests your limits just as much as Captain Vostrikov tested those of his men. Vostrikov was absolutely brutal in his commands and never questioned or though about the consequences of his extreme actions. Before they ever begin their mission, the crew was put through several rigorous drills and tests at the worst conditions. The sub was sent down below crushing depths and sent up through the icecaps at the surface in the middle of the Atlantic.

Don't expect a war movie, expect a teeth clincher. While most submarine movies are about dodging torpedoes and hiding from the enemy, K-19 is about preventing the submarine from self-destructing and causing another Hiroshima, or as pointed out by a crew member, "there is more nuclear matter on the sub than what was dropped over Japan."

About half way through, a seal in one of the pressure pipes in the nuclear reactor ruptures; causing the core temperature to rise dramatically, threatening massive explosions and the start of World War III. That explosion would have reached the NATO command base as well as an American Destroyer which would have sparked the war. From here on out, it's all downhill.

I haven't felt this much tension in a movie since Schindler's List. What the crew is told to do by Vostrikov is incomprehensible and suicidal. Without real radiations suits, teams are selected to go into the reactor wearing chemical suits (about as protective as a raincoat) and break all the water lines in order to flood in out and decrease the temperature using their own drinking water. Three teams of two have to work in the reactor for ten minutes before the next team goes in to relieve them.

Without giving away any more details, I'll tell you that the sub's doctor is occupied for the rest of the movie. Radiation starts to leak into all the compartments contaminating all their food leaving the crew in a troubling predicament. It's not an easy movie to sit through and why I couldn't give The Widowmaker a perfect score. I do recommend it however, because most of these events really happened, and one that history buffs will appreciate. On top of it all, Harrison Ford delivers in this intense drama thriller.

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Copyright 2002. All rights reserved. Contact Editor: Scott Spicciati