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on August 20, 2002
This exceptional film is inspired by tragic historical events. The screenplay is a composite, based equally on two separate Soviet naval disasters. The first, obviously, is the 1961 "cursed" maiden mission of K-19, Russia's pioneer nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine. The second is a narrowly-averted catastrophe of 1986, involving the decrepit "Yankee-class" boomer, K-219. Ironically, the movie was also nearly scuttled -- before it even began production. The rough draft contained every Slavophobic stereotype and Cold War cliche', and was bitterly protested by K-19's surviving officers. They wtote a series of open letters to the producers and actors, inviting them to Russia to hear their real story. When director Katheryn Bigalow met these aging veterans and the widow of their recently-deceased Captain, she resolved to film a tribute to their courage. Much of the film's reference material comes from two superb books written by Capt. Peter Huchthausen USN-ASW (ret.): "K-19: The Widowmaker"; and "Hostile Waters". The former contains the translated memoir of Captain Nikolai Zateyev (real-life CO of the ill-fated sub) with an addendum about the film. The latter, co-authored with Capt. Igor Kurdin and novelist Robin White, tells the amazing story of K-219. I urge viewers to read both books for an even greater appreciation of the movie! You'll see that Harrison Ford is a dead-ringer for Zateyev, both physically and personality-wise. He commands the role of Vostrikov (Zateyev) to perfection. Liam Neeson's character, Capt. 2nd Rank Polenin, appears strongly based on K-219's Captain Igor Britanov, who was the compassionate father-figure popular with his crew. The Captains' contrasting styles of leadership provide the conflict in the film. Hollywood melodramatization is apparently obligatory, even when true events provide drama aplenty. The mutiny's only basis in reality concerned a dispute over whether to head the stricken K-19 for a Norwegian port or toward the last-known operational area of Soviet diesel submarines. A core meltdown, while not producing a "thermonuclear explosion", would have released a massive cloud of atomic contamination. K-19's disaster occurred far from any American interests, but K-219's runaway reactor threatened to dust the entire Eastern Seaboard with lethal plutonium. K-19's valiant third-watch did cobble together a makeshift cooling system in just the manner depicted. A fire did break out. And K-19's men suffered horrifying radiation poisoning within the core so hot as to boil their bodily fluids. But the character of Vadim Rodchenko, the young Reactor Officer who conquers paralyzing fear, clearly honors the memory of another engineer. K-219's Seaman Sergei Preminin manually shut down his overheating reactor, sacrificing his life to save Americans from a Chernobyl-in-a-tin-can mere miles off our coast. It was K-219's Britanov who defied Moscow's orders to halt evacuation, and decided to sink his sub to deprive the circling enemy of its prize. And although K-19's crew was absolved of blame and even decorated for their actions, K-219's Catain and officers were persecuted by the unforgiving Soviet system depicted in the film. Thus, while "K-19: The Widowmaker" is not entirely true to its namesake, it accurately portrays the life-and-death scenario which repeatedly plagued the USSR during the Cold War. In its desperation to play "catch-up" with its vastly superior American counterpart, the Soviet Navy would continue to risk its young submariners in hastily-designed, shoddily-built, or outright obsolete boats. Katheryn Bigalow and National Geographic deserve credit for showing the American audience the human side of these young seamen and officers who were just as gallant, dedicated, and patriotic as our own. We care about them, salute their heroism, and mourn their loss. "K-19" is visually magnificent and emotionally compelling. An absolutely spellbinding drama. You'll want the video, but see the film today before it leaves the Big Screen!
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VINE VOICEon December 11, 2002
After scanning some reviews I've decided to add my 2 cents, since I just got the DVD & saw the movie for the first time. To those who say it has very similar elements already visited in films such as "Crimson Tide," "U-571", etc., my reaction to that is, yes, you're right. The first half hour of this movie I was a bit concerned about where it was going. It had the "been here, done that" feel to it in regards to other "sub movies." I didn't buy Ford's accent at first (why? Because I know him from other movies, whereas if some unknown actor played the role, I wouldn't have questioned the authenticity or even the accent delivery at all), but as time passed, I didn't notice it as much and thought it was fine. In regards to the why do Americans put accents on in the first place when speaking English, it's really no big mystery, it simply adds to the setting. I suppose if you went the other extreme and gave them all harsh U.S. Southern accents, it would pull you even further away from believing in who they are portraying, so it's just like an extra prop that enhances the presentation.

To those historic critics who try to rip up every attempt Hollywood makes to tell a story, I have this to say: Sad as it may be, but if I had not seen "Schindler's List," I would not have as much an appreciation for the Holocaust. I don't read much history, so if Hollywood with it's jaded glitz & glamour can emotionally move me to appreciate a moment of history, then so be it! And speaking of important moment's of history, you should check out "Uprising," another great historic drama that deserves attention (about the Jewish ghetto uprising).

At any rate, now for why I give K-19 five stars. I enjoyed the drama, the tension, the cast, and the story. It's that simple. I still think "U-571" is the best sub movie I've ever seen, perhaps because of how tightly the movie went with not a second of downtime, but K-19 is a more human, dramatic story that is important to see. The DVD has several documentaries on how they made the movie that should be seen by the history critics, as it certainly seems like they did much research on the topics & history before shooting the film. If the director had a gap, then it needed to be filled, and a story has to be interesting or it becomes a bad movie. Never will everyone be happy, and that's why most reviews will differ. So take it from a person who watches movies to be entertained, moved, and even educated at times, K-19 is an excellent movie.
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K19: THE WIDOWMAKER is a most impressive debut for National Geographic Feature Films, one of the movie's principal production partners.
The story is based on a Cold War event kept secret for decades. It's 1961, and the Soviet's first atomic powered ballistic missile submarine, the K-19, is scheduled for an operational shakedown cruise in the North Atlantic. The USSR wants to show the United States that the latter is not the only world power with waterproof big guns, so to speak, seeing as how the U.S. Navy has put Polaris subs within missile-lobbing range of Leningrad and Moscow.
Filmed in Canada and Moscow, this "Hollywood" version of the story has Captain Polenin (Liam Neeson) as commander of the K19 while it's still under construction in Murmansk. In a bad career move, he's vociferously unhappy about the quality of the boat's construction, and outspokenly suggests it's not ready for its first sea trial. Enter Captain Vostrikov (Harrison Ford), an in-law of a Politburo big shot, who takes command with Polenin as his executive officer. The submarine is duly launched, though the champagne bottle fails to break - a harbinger of bad luck, and off it goes to prove itself as the newest protector of the Motherland. At first, it looks like the operational sea trial will be a smashing triumph when the K19 successfully launches one of its three ballistic missiles. Take that, you Yankee imperialist dogs! But then, on its way under new orders to take up a patrol station off the eastern U.S. seaboard, the K19 develops a leak in its nuclear reactor's cooling system that gives a new dimension to the phrase "in hot water".
Borrowing and fixing up an actual Russian sub on permanent display in Florida (only in America!) for the exterior shots, and re-creating ten submarine compartments accurate down to the smallest details for the interior camera work, the producers of K19: THE WIDOWMAKER have achieved perhaps the most authentic looking sub film since DAS BOOT. (The interior sets of the film make Sean Connery's "Red October" look like the starship Enterprise.) And, something you don't see every day, there are no female players to clutter things up with mushy stuff outside of a very brief scene where the girls left behind are kissing the sailors good-bye. Otherwise, this is all Guy Stuff spearheaded by two superb performances from Ford and Neeson. Though the former will be perceived as the actor in the leading role, Neeson is right there breathing down his neck, and an argument could be made to nominate both for an Oscar in the Leading Role category. Perhaps not since HEAT (Pacino and De Niro) have two major male stars played so powerfully well together.
K19 serves to remind Americans that in the Cold War, or any war, heroism, sacrifice, honor and duty are not attributes limited to just the home team. I consider it the best major film I've seen to date for the 2002 film season.
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on October 13, 2002
It is worth reminding what the real heroes of those events thought about the movie. When it was first screened in St. Petersburg, the survivors of the nuclear submarine disaster could not hide ironic smiles, yet at the end of the film, the veterans rose to applaud the fantasy-filled story of human courage. The craft's navigator, Valentin Shabanov said that only two things in the film were true: the bottle of champagne did not break when the submarine was launched and an accident with the reactor; the rest "are tales from Uncle Sam." Although the plot is based on real-life events, producers added psychological drama to the storyline by clashing hard-nosed captain Ford against his more compassionate second-in-command in a stand-off culminating in a riot. "For the crew to disobey the captain. It is unthinkable," said the craft's powerline supervisor Boris Kuzmin. "There was no panic at all. And the guns -- they are sealed in a safebox and few people know where it is. As for handcuffs, in 1961 even police did not have them. Forget about the submarine." The Russian sailors said they had vetoed the first script of the film, which contained such scenes as a Russian officer sitting on top of the reactor and drinking vodka. Even the Director Kathryn Bigelow, admitted that the team added imaginary conflict to the story for the benefit of the viewer. Despite their reservations, the K-19 veterans were unanimous in giving high marks to the film which for the first time in Hollywood history portrayed Soviet servicemen as heroes.
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I had some problems with this film. Not the whines about historical inaccuracy (you are preaching to the choir since I love history), because I have long ago stopped expecting anything too accurate to come out of Hollywood. Not the American actors playing Russians - hey get real. Hollywood is going for BIG NAME to sell the tickets. Had they staffed the roles with lesser-known Russian actors would the film have even gotten more than passing notice?
What I had problems with - I was unable to distance myself from the grim realities of the film by saying at the back of my head - it's only fiction. Accurate or not, this the depicts a tragic accident based on truth that was officially suppressed for 28 years.
Set at the height of the Cold War Between Russian and US, Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson deliver intense performances as the command of the Soviet nuclear submarine K-19. An exposed reactor core nearly resulted in a nuclear catastrophe for the men aboard the K-19 and the world around them. As the core is breached, the men must be sent in time and again - all knowing they are being sent to their deaths. Gradually, the struggle between Ford and Neeson sees the crew escalating to near-mutiny (can you blame them?), with Ford struggling to retain command.
Kathryn Bigelow as director has a fine sense of pace and how to spiral the tension, proving she is able stand toe to toe with male directors of this genre.
It's just not an easy film to watch, to see those poor lads going in to death, sacrificing themselves for the sake of other.
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on April 3, 2004
Veteran actors Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson star in this thrilling film about a Russian nuclear submarine and its crew during the height of the cold war. Ford stars as Captain Alexi Vostrikov, a by-the-book, bend and no break commander of the Russian submarine K-19. Neeson stars as Captain Mikhail Polenin. Polenin is the exact opposite of Vostrikov. He is well liked by the crew and is willing to take advice from them.
The K-19 is the newest is Russian submarine technology. Capable of firing missiles up and down the American coast, the submarine and its crew set off on their maiden training mission.
The crew successfully fires the test missile, but soon another problem develops. The crew soon realizes that their nuclear reactor which powers the ship has developed a severe leak which threatens to possibly destroy the ship.
Volunteers are chosen to go inside the reactor area to try to fix the leak by welding pipes to bypass the leak, but these men soon are suffering from radiation exposure. Meanwhile, an American destroyer has come upon the crippled sub and has offered assistance. Vostrikov is determined not to seek help from the "enemy" Americans, and the K-19 does manage to contact another Russian sub and the crew is transferred.
I thought this was a very good movie. Neeson and Ford do very good jobs as the Russian captains, although I didn't care too much for the fake Russian accents. The special effects, especially the underwater shots of the K-19 are excellent. I've been a fan of submarine movies for a long time, and I rate this movie alongside others such as "U-574", "Crimson Tide", and "The Hunt for Red October". It is full of excitement and will definitely captivate you throughout.
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on August 31, 2002
K-19 The Widowmaker is an absolutely great movie, depicting actual events. The basic premise: It is the early stages of the cold war. The Soviets have designed, by their measures, the ultimate boomer. Kruschev wants it put to sea earlier than it should be, to launch a test missile and prove to us, the Americans, that they did it. Of course, poor design, followed by poor workmanship hamper this submarine from the beginning. Several people die in various ways, during the construction and even right before it sea trials. Once they finally put to sea, the Captain (Harrison Ford) begins to take the crew through several drills, attempting to make them a more efficient crew. They quickly become a team, which is fortunate, for what they are about to face will test them thoroughly. They experience a coolant leak in one of the reactors. I won't ruin the movie for those who've not seen it yet. Let's just say that this movie has plenty of suspense and that if you like these types of movies, like myself, you'll really enjoy K-19 The Widowmaker. Another great performance by Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson and everybody else involved. Catch this movie before you have to wait a few months for it to hit the DVD rack.
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on July 19, 2002
First of all, I'm really giving this movie 3.5 stars, and I decided to be generous in my rounding.
"K-19: The Widowmaker" is the fact-based story of the maiden voyage of a Soviet nuclear submarine in 1961. It begins with the testing of K-19 in dry-dock, under the command of Captain Polenin (Liam Neeson). When questions arise as to the readiness of the ship while the government presses for the sub to head to the East Coast, headstrong Captain Alexi Vostrikov (Harrison Ford) is brought in to take control.
K-19 finally sets out, and its crew attempts to prove its prowess as the most powerful nuclear submarine in the world. Disaster ensues as the crew discovers that its government's haste may have started a chain reaction that will leave the very fate of the world in the balance.
I found "K-19" to be a little different from what I was expecting. The previews led me to believe that the sub was stranded in an ice field, which was not the case. It wasn't necessarily a bad difference. I also found the cinematography to be very effective in conveying the claustrophobic living and working conditions on a submarine. The story that unfolded was a good one, not great but not half bad either. "K-19" was easily as good as "U-571," although not quite the caliber of "Crimson Tide."
The main detraction from the movie (and the primary reason for my taking off 1.5 stars) was the appalling accents. None of the actors were even *close* to mastering a Russian accent. It was cumbersome and made me tire of the movie quicker than I might have had the actors just used their respective natural accents (as the main characters in "Enemy at the Gates" do).
Bottom Line: A good submarine movie with plentiful action to keep the story moving, if, that is, you can move beyond the pathetic accents.
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on October 29, 2002
Among the things for which this film was criticized was Harrison Ford's faltering Russian accent. Sure, his accent wasn't superb. But what we should really ask about that point is, why is speaking English with a Russian accent (as opposed to speaking English without a Russian accent) deemed a substantially more accurate representation of what would have in reality been dialogue in Russian? Characters who actually spoke Russian speak English in this movie so it can be understood by an audience that understands English but generally not Russian; once that much translation is part of it, accent is a minor issue. That matter aside, this movie is a remarkably revealing one about realities of the cold-war virtually unknown until now. A Russian submarine of the early nuclear era suffers a mishap in its reactor, a malfunction that threatens the crew and could well become an international disaster. The nearest help they would have had access to was at a NATO base. But their loyalty to their country vis-a-vis the Soviet system makes that appeal for help unthinkable. They were bound to protect their government's secrecy; in fact they would remain sworn to secrecy as long as the Soviet Union remained in existence. Of course it would have been better to accept the nearest available help and share their experience with the world. That would have been best not only in the interest of protecting their crew and reducing the risk of war, but also for sharing with the world knowledge of what could go wrong with nuclear reactors, in submarines or elsewhere. But the only view of patriotism acceptable to the crew at the time meant continuing in secrecy and repairing the reactor at a great price. That price involved several crew members venturing so close to the reactor's problem that they exposed themselves to deadly radiation. Some reviews have considered this a film that portrays the Russian sailors heroically, and considered that either groundbreaking or a sell-out, depending on their point of view. But either of those perspectives misses the real point. The important sense in which the movie is groundbreaking is that it lets a universal humanity be seen in the Russian crew members in the face of trial and deadly peril. Although there IS heroism on that submarine, by no means does the movie idealize the blind loyality to the Soviet system as one with that heroism. In fact the movie courageously follows up on the life of the survivors through to a day when they can at last have a new perspective on their heroism and how the clandestine Soviet government did or did not best serve them through their tribulation.
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on July 22, 2002
1961. The Russian submarine K19, stocked with nuclear missiles, is about to embark upon its maiden mission: to scare the US by test-firing one of the missiles in the North Atlantic. The mission is complicated by the military's rushed schedule and the K19 is scheduled to sail in less-than-perfect operating condition. Harrison Ford is the star and executive producer in this edge-of-your-seat film. Both Ford and Liam Neeson star as Soviet Navy Captains. Ford relieves Neeson at the helm and the two butt heads, challenging each other for command. Ford drills the crew obsessively to prepare them for potential crisis. Like APOLLO 13, this mission was cursed from the beginning. Ten men were killed before the K19 had even left port. The nickname "Widowmaker" was established before its maiden voyage. After they set sail, everything goes wrong. The nuclear reactor cooling system sprung a leak, threatening to raise the core temperature to 1,000 degrees. This would detonate the nuclear weapons, starting a chain reaction leading to WWIII. The crewmen must go on a suicide rescue mission into the core and repair the leak, exposing themselves to massive doses of radiation.
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (Pointe Break and Strange Days), "K19" was inspired by a real-life Cold War incident. The actual crew was sworn to secrecy for 28 years. In 1989, with the fall of communism, the crew of the K19 were finally able to discuss the events of their mission and put it to rest.
Prior to seeing this film, I heard negative reports regarding Harrison Ford's so-called Russian accent. Let's try to see beyond the accents and experience what the film is really about. The K19 is on its maiden voyage and wasn't truly ready to sail. The crew is young, inexperience and scared. Their acting captain and the man they know and trust as their captain are in the showdown of their lives. Ford and Neeson should be proud of their performance that put them in line with the classic showdowns of Clark Gable/Burt Lancaster (1958-"Run Silent, Run Deep") and Denzel Washington/Gene Hackman (1995-"Crimson Tide"). This film has spectacular sound effects and special underwater effects that made me hold my breath like I did with "U-571". Outstanding cinematography, fabulous acting and casting. A wonderfully told story.
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