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K-19: The Widowmaker

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: K-19: The Widowmaker

Starring: Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 138 Minutes
Release Date: July 2002
Genres: Action, War

*Also starring: Joss Ackland, Steve Nicolson, Peter Oldring, Peter Sarsgaard, Donald Sumpter

Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4

K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER, "inspired by" an amazing true story, is sunk by a host of problems in its production, including Harrison Ford's one-note performance, Christopher Kyle's heavily clichéd script and Kathryn Bigelow's slack direction. The movie, which features a great old 1961 Russian nuclear submarine, tries to save itself but can't. It's also a half-hour too long, which doesn't help.

Ford plays Russian Capt. Alexi Vostrikov, a sadist who is willing to risk breaking up the sub in order to toughen up his men for duty. He also transfers out the only competent nuclear engineer in his crew. Instead, he takes along a kid fresh out of school, who knows nothing. Life on board his ship consists of non-stop, dangerous drills. And when it looks like every man under his command will die a horrible death by radiation poisoning, he refuses to accept the help of a close-by American ship. In the end, the screenplay wants us to believe that his extreme cruelty was reasonable and even to be admired and respected, but, by then, it becomes way too much to swallow.

The K-19's ill-fated mission -- ten people die before they even leave port -- is to launch a test missile in order to demonstrate to the Americans the nuclear firepower of the Soviet forces. Along the way, their reactor seriously malfunctions and brave sailors become terminally ill from radiation poisoning. The whole interior of the ship begins to peg the Geiger counter. Capt. Vostrikov doesn't have much to offer the crew in terms of motivation since his speeches run along the lines of his first address to them, "Much is expected of us. We will not fail." Patton was a real sweetheart in comparison.

Also on board the sub is Capt. Polenin (Liam Neeson), the boat's ex-skipper who has been assigned the role of second in command on this voyage. His management skills are as touchy feely as Capt. Vostrikov's are cold and heartless. They will, of course, have their own meltdown in front of the crew, who will stare without speaking.

Although much is wrong with K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER, there is one memorable part. As the men, covered from head to toe with horrible scars, begin to puke their guts out and complain of loss of sight, one's mind naturally turns to the threat on our country from terrorists with dirty bombs containing radiation. It is a frightening thought, and, because of it, this movie may give you serious nightmares for quite some time.

K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER runs a long 2:18. It is rated PG-13 for "disturbing images" and would be acceptable for teenagers with strong stomachs. It should have been rated R since the images are much more horrific that any R-rated slasher flick.

My son Jeffrey, age 13, gave it ** 1/2. He thought the story was interesting and the acting was good, but he found the radiation sickness part quite disturbing.

Copyright © 2002 Steve Rhodes

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