K-19: The Widowmaker
Reviewed by David Kashimba

There are several unique elements in the film K-19: The Widowmaker, but the most interesting is how men can rise to heroic stature when all odds are against heroism. The film, loosely based on actual events in the Soviet navy, follows the short unhappy life of the Soviet submarine K-19 in the time of Khrushchev and Kennedy. The submarine represented new nuclear technology at the time and the Soviets were determined to show America what the Soviet navy is capable of. But in their haste to put the new sub to sea in order to show Americans itís missile firing capabilities, many corners are cut resulting in several crew memberís deaths before the sub ever leaves dry dock. Even the Champagne bottle doesnít break when the ship is being ceremoniously launched. As the ship is being supplied, the wrong medical supplies are delivered and instead of nuclear hazardous material suits, the sub is supplied with chemical suits. When Capt. Polenin (Liam Neeson) states emphatically that the ship is not ready for sea trials and missile launch, he is replaced by Capt. Vostrikov (Harrison Ford) and forced to serve as executive officer.

Though all these events trouble the crew of K-19, their objections are reduced to a few stoic grumbles as though improvising in the face of errors and inefficiencies is part of their Russian heritage. Indeed, the film shows, as does history, that the strength of this heritage is also their weakness. The men rally with pride when the missile is successfully fired under very difficult circumstances. But when everything that could go wrong on this doomed ship, nicknamed The Widowmaker, finally does, itís this stoicism coupled with their comradeship for their fellow crew members that enable a few of the men to expose themselves to nuclear radiation in order to save the ship and crew.

This heroism in the face of extreme danger makes this drama worth seeing. Men and women who have served the military of any nation will identify with the crew of K-19 and the obstacles they faced and heroically overcame. My only warning is that some of the scenes can be disturbing. As a Vietnam vet (Vietnam being a war full of errors and inefficiencies), I felt troubled by this film for several hours after seeing it. This is not a criticism but more of a tribute to the dramaís realism and a word of caution to war veterans.

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