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K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER

Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson, Joss Ackland, J.J. Field, Lex Shrapnel

Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Written by: Christopher Kyle, Louis Nowra, William Broyles, Jr., Chris Kyle
Produced by: Joni Sighvatsson, Christine Whitaker, Kathryn Bigelow, Moritz Borman, Edward S. Feldman
Distributor: Paramount Pictures

US: 19/07/02 UK: 25/10/02

Inspired by a true story... At the height of the Cold War, Captain Alexi Vostrikov (Harrison Ford), is ordered to take over command of the nuclear missile submarine K-19, pride of the Soviet Navy. His assignment: prepare the K-19 for sea and take her out on patrol - no matter what the cost. But problems with the K-19 arise that may lead to a core meltdown and explosion that will certainly kill all aboard, and possibly trigger a nuclear war. Vostrikov must choose beteween his orders from the Kremlin and the lives of his men.
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Modem
Based on a true story, this compelling and often exciting submarine drama has a real sense of authenticity going for it. It's 1961, the height of the Cold War, and the Soviets are desperate to get their first missile-launching nuclear sub into the North Atlantic, even though it's a rushed job. To make sure it happens, they bring in new commanding officer Vostrikov (Ford) to oversee the final stages of construction and testing, which irritates the current captain Polenin (Neeson). But the two work together to get the boat out to sea, then must find untapped inner resources when a nuclear accident threatens to start World War III.

Bigelow brings her usual visual skills to bear on this massive production, and it looks terrific. The design is superb, creating a setting we believe in while underplaying the effects nicely (besides a few too many sweeping digital zooms). Klaus Badelt's soaring score helps set the tone. And the performances are excellent, drawing us in with little details and interesting internal conflicts that let us overlook the faint Rooskie accents. Ford and Neeson lock horns wonderfully, while Sarsgaard effectively takes us through the entire gamut of cowardice and bravery as the ship's inexperienced reactor specialist. There are fine moments of teamwork--both lighthearted camaraderie and terrifying solidarity. And issues of leadership and heroism are examined from intriguing angles, if we can be bothered to look that deeply. While it's unfathomably better than the trite, distorted U-571, the film still has problems with its own self-importance. Most notably in the long running time, which is strongly felt during the dull centre section, followed by another terrifying crisis and more than one sappy "captain my captain" moment (one of which actually features that line) and an unnecessary epilogue. But never mind, this is still a gripping, intelligent blockbuster.

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