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K-19: The Widowmaker

Served With a Twist on Patriotism

By MaleÑa Stiteler

Written by Louis Nowra and Christopher Kyle

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Starring Liam Neeson, Harrison Ford


K-19: The Widowmaker is a standard Hollywood submarine movie with two differences. It follows fairly closely to a true story, and it is told from the Soviet point of view. These differences serve to both hinder and help the plot. It is a refreshing change to watch a movie void of any American flag-waving, but even this didn’t help the mundane ending forced onto the plot by the actual events that inspired the movie.

K-19 tells the story of the flagship in the Soviet Union’s Navy in 1961. The submarine, nicknamed the Widowmaker for a number of unfortunate accidents that occurred before it left port, begins its maiden voyage in the movie. When the coolant system for one of the sub’s nuclear reactors fails, the crew must struggle and sacrifice to prevent even greater harm.

All this occurs against the backdrop of internal power struggles within the submarine and the two conflicting styles of leadership between the new captain, Captain Vostrikov, played by Harrison Ford, and his subordinate, played by Liam Neeson, the old captain of the K-19 who was replaced by Vostrikov.

The major problem with this plot is not in the setup, but the resolution, which for the most part takes place halfway through the movie. This leaves only a few loose ends to tie up that are unable to maintain the levels of suspense and interest generated up to that point. The final scenes of the movie are unhelpful and disappointing, and appear to have been added as an afterthought. Much as in Saving Private Ryan, the ending jumps to the present day, but in this case, the scene rings hollow and the movie would be improved by its removal.

Despite this flaw, the film is saved by a number of redeeming features. The first half of the plot is strong and keeps movie-goers engaged, with rising tension and interesting characters. Even in the more tedious portions of K-19: The Widowmaker, the portrayal of America as the enemy provides an interesting contrast to normal Hollywood programming. The acting is convincing, especially by the crew members under the two captains. The direction and cinematography captured the confined atmosphere of a submarine, and the score and special effects, while not groundbreaking, added to the atmosphere and enhanced the movie-going experience.

For a summer film, K-19 will appeal to people who liked the look of the trailer or enjoy military and suspense movies. Just be prepared for an ending that doesn’t live up to the promising beginning.