When Russia’s first nuclear submarine malfunctions on its maiden voyage, the crew, led by Captain Alexei Vostrikov (Harrison Ford), must race to save the ship and prevent a nuclear disaster.
I’m not sure if Harrison Ford even attempted a Russian accent in this. His usual growl is present throughout and his accent is more noticeable in some scenes than others. Liam Neeson on the other hand, who plays executive officer Mikhail Polenin and second in command on the sub, pretty much nails the accent. Accents aside, they both give engaging performances. There’s tension between the two men, Vostrikov is the new captain and repeatedly pushes his crew through drills while Polenin is more personable and well-liked by the crew.
It’s how Vostrikov and Polenin bounce off of one another and try and work together when there’s mistrust from other members of the crew as some see Polenin as their captain, that drives the first half of the film. K-19: The Widowmaker spends plenty of time giving you an overview of the crew, both the higher ranks and the lower ranks, and seeing what it takes to man a submarine. This means that when the reactor malfunctions, plunging the entire crew in danger, the tension you have a decent idea of who is who and what’s their responsibilities.
The second half turns up the tension as men volunteer to be exposed to radiation so they can try and save the submarine and their comrades. The score can be overly dramatic at times but when it works, especially when men are being subjected to the radiation, it works. It’s quieter and feels almost respectful to what’s happening on screen. The effects of the radiation are never underplayed and it’s tough to watch the men’s bodies shut down, and the fear of the rest of the crew as they try and keep the submarine afloat.
K-19: The Widowmaker highlights both the best and worst of people in a crisis, and how it’s the people on the frontline who are often screwed over by superiors who cut corners and push for things to meet ridiculous deadlines for political clout.
Based on real events, K-19: The Widowmaker is overall a gripping film that makes good use of the claustrophobic nature of a submarine. The fact that these events happened, and the lengths the crew went to to try and save one another is astonishing. As is the fact that it was apparently kept secret by the Soviet Union for so long. 4/5.