"The Comrades Versus the Soviets"
What You Need To Know:
Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson star in K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER. Ford plays a nuclear submarine captain, named Alexei, in 1961 in old Communist Russia, who takes command of a new submarine from Neeson’s character, Mikhail. The submarine was rushed into service, however. The coolant system breaks down, the Communists did not provide for a backup, and the nuclear reactor breaks down. Eventually, the tough-as-nails Alexei must humble himself and ask the crew what to do, instead of commanding them.
Regrettably, there are long sections of boredom in this movie. The cinematography is serviceable. The acting is all over the map. The accents are atrocious. In fact, at one point, it is clear that there is overdubbing trying to repair some of the accents. Although there are some redemptive, moral elements in K-19, the moral of the story is that the Communist leadership’s Stalinist-Leninist, authoritarian approach was wrong, but that pure Communist communalism, where the workers decide everything, is the answer. Most of the audience will not pick up on these fine points. What they will see is that these people are ridiculous for refusing America’s help in the middle of the story
(HH, CoCo, BB, C, L, V, N, A, D, M) Humanist worldview extolling the pure Communist brotherhood of the workers versus the totalitarian bureaucrats with some moral, redemptive elements, one Christian character, a Cross is revered in a backhanded way, and captain says, “May God be with you” at crucial moment; two obscenities; gruesome radiation burns eating away at people’s flesh and eyes from exposure to submarine reactor, hand caught in torpedo chain and crushed, head hit by torpedo, fleeting images of people drowning, and rat dies; no sex; upper male nudity and Soviet submarine crew moons American helicopter trying to help them; alcohol use; smoking; and, Christian told that people are not allowed to carry a Cross, politburo officer shows images of America and tells how much they lie, cheat, steal, and oppress blacks, and mutiny and cowardice rebuked.
National Geographic should go back to printing magazines. In part produced by the revered yellow magazine, K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER is such a lifeless, earnest effort that a few people walked out of the screening.
At the beginning of the movie, the audience is told that in 1961 the Soviet Socialist Republic of Russia had enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world two times over, whereas the Americans had enough to destroy the world 10 times over. Scared that they’re losing the arms race, the Soviet leadership commissioned a nuclear sub to be built in record time, dispatched under the ice near Greenland, and to fire a missile to show the United States that they had the power to destroy them before the United States got so far ahead that the Russian Soviets would have to capitulate.
Captain Mikhail Polenin, played by Liam Neeson, is revered by his crew because he treats them as his family. It is clear to Mikhail that the submarine K-19 is not ready: the backup systems are not in place; the wrong fuses have been installed; the electrical wiring keeps going up in smoke; and, the workmanship is shoddy.
Believing that they need to beat the Americans at all costs, the Soviet leaders bring in the best submarine commander, Captain Alexei Vostrikov, played by Harrison Ford. Alexei is tough as nails. He has only one flaw in the eyes of the Soviets – his father was a great captain honored in the Revolution, but somehow broke rank and was condemned to the Gulags, the Soviet political prison system. Alexei does not treat the men as if they were his children, but pushes them mercilessly as soon as the sub gets out of port. He takes the sub to as close to crush depth as possible – scaring everyone. He pushes so hard that he constantly runs into a battle of wills with Mikhail.
After firing the missile, the men find that the atomic reactor on the sub has a faulty coolant system. A backup system was not installed. Men are sent into the reactor to fix it. The Soviets forgot to include radiation suits, however, so they wear chemical suits, which Mikhail says are not as good as wearing raincoats. They make the repairs, but they come out horribly burned by the radiation.
The submarine goes to the surface. An American destroyer offers to help them, but tough as nails Alexei will not let the Americans help them. The repairs fail.
The politburo officer and Mikhail’s senior officer mutiny and take over the ship. When they turn the command over to Mikhail, he frees Captain Alexei, arrests the mutineers, who were his friends, and restores Alexei.
Humbled, Alexei asks Mikhail what he should do. Mikhail says don’t order the men, ask them what to do. The men take a little while to decide that they should dive to deeper, cooler waters to repair the reactor. The reactor engineer who showed cowardice goes in alone to re-repair the reactor.
For an action film, there’s not much action in K-19; and, there’s not much suspense. The jeopardy is clearly defined, but it doesn’t seem to govern anyone’s actions. The goal isn’t to save the world, but showing the Soviet system was bankrupt and that pure Comrade communalism is the answer. This is especially stressed in the last scene.
For those familiar with Communism, this is the triumph of Trotskyite Marxist values over Leninist Marxist values. Although Marxism-Leninism failed, the movie suggests that Marxist communalism may succeed. Most of the audience will not pick up on these fine points. What they will see is that these people are stupid for not asking the Americans for help and that the Soviets could not build a successful submarine with their authoritarian system.
There is some good in the movie. These men sacrifice themselves for others, though the Soviets do not recognize their sacrifice and put Alexei on trial. Love triumphs over hate. A Cross is revered in a backhanded way. Finally, Alexei even says, “May God be with us all,” when it looks like they’re going to blow to smithereens, proving once again that there are no atheists in foxholes, or broken down nuclear submarines.
Regrettably, there are long sections of boredom in this overlong movie. The direction and cinematography are serviceable. The acting is all over the map. The accents are atrocious. In fact, at one point, it is all too clear that there is some overdubbing to repair some of the bad accents.