Combustible Celluloid
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With: Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson, Peter Sarsgaard, Joss Ackland, John Shrapnel, Donald Sumpter, Tim Woodward, Steve Nicholson, Ravil Isyanov, Christian Camargo
Written by: Christopher Kyle, based on a story by Louis Nowra
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing images
Running Time: 137
Date: 07/19/2002

K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Sub the Wrong Way

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Stuck with an ill-timed release in the summer of 2002, among the popcorn movies, Kathryn Bigelow's intense, harrowing K-19: The Widowmaker received mixed reviews, many of which called the film overly serious and too long. (Not surprising, in a season that promises thrills rather than cold, hard drama.) Now that Bigelow has won an Oscar for Best Director, it's time to give the movie a second chance.

In 1961, the Russian nuclear submarine the K-19 sets sail, even though it has not been 100% finished, and even though it appears to be a "bad luck" boat. Captain Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson) has been replaced by the stern, by-the-book Captain Alexei Vostrikov (Harrison Ford), much to the anger of his beloved crew.

In the midst of all this tension, men are injured during drills, and nothing appears to be working correctly. Worse, one of the nuclear reactors becomes unstable, and there are no radiation suits on board. If the bomb goes off, it could start WWIII. It's up to the men to repair it, exposing themselves to massive doses of radiation. Based on a true story, the incident was kept secret until very recently, and the film pays tribute to those involved without a hint of pretension.

Bigelow directs with lean efficiency moving through the submarine's narrow passages swiftly and cleanly. She focuses on a choice few of the men, and manages to capture a cross section of them, representing all their hopes and fears in just a few strokes. The movie does indulge in a few "based on a true story" conventions, and the wobbly Russian accents are sometimes distracting, but these are minor quibbles in a brutally effective, brilliantly constructed dramatic thriller.

Paramount's excellent 2010 Blu-Ray release comes with a director'scommentary track, featurettes and a trailer.

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