14 October 2007 | TOMASBBloodhound
Definitely worth a look.
There is a scene early on in this film that pretty much sums up the risk that the crew of the new submarine of record will be taking. The officers are sitting around enjoying some vodka and one of them brings up the cosmonaut hero Yuri Gagarin. He offers the rumor that Gagarin was not in fact the first man sent into space. He was simply the first guy who made it back alive. And the crew of this brand new nuclear sub will face similar danger as their hastily prepared vessel will be pushed to the limit in order to impress both the politburo, and make the Americans take note of its existence. The boat has not even left the dock before it has claimed a handful of lives, most notably the ship's doctor who is hit by a truck just before departure. The top nuclear engineer on board is also hastily replaced when he is discovered drunk on duty. And of course, the champagne bottle doesn't break during the dedication ceremony on the first hit. This is a uniformly bad omen in anyone's navy! K-19 stars two wonderful actors in Harrison Ford, and Liam Neeson. Neeson plays the boat's original captain who strongly objects to how hastily the new vessel was thrown together. Ford, who has higher political connections is put in charge of the K-19 with Neeson being demoted to executive officer. Both men are stubborn, be generally respectful to one another. Trouble is, as the film later points out, a ship can only have ONE captain. One man that the crew looks to and respects. Two such men only create tension. Once the boat leaves port, things generally go pretty well. Despite a leak or two, the boat initially holds together. Ford orders a very deep descent, and of course we are treated to one of those scenes which every submarine movie has where the entire crew looks on nervously as the boat may or may not implode under pressure. Anyway, it holds up. The K-19 then breaks through a patch of ice and has a successful test firing of a missile. Everything looks like it is going great. The crew even stops to pose for a happy picture atop the ice after a game of soccer. Of course, things begin to fall apart from there on.
First off, the nuclear reactor pretty much goes kaput. Radiation levels rise rapidly, and for a while it looks like the whole sub might explode. Making things even more drastic is the presence of an American destroyer ship that would theoretically be taken out if the sub went nuclear. Tensions between the two nations were never really much higher than they were back then, so this may have been a real possibility. Once things start going badly, the tensions between Ford and Neeson begin to magnify. A mutiny is even attempted by those loyal to Neeson. Worst of all, the attempt to fix the reactor takes the lives of a handful of the crew in a particularly gruesome fashion. The film becomes more tense as things keep getting more and more dangerous for all involved. The conclusion is somewhat logical, but it might seem a little contrived. The entire movie is loosely based on real events, but the film has too many clichés for it to really be taken too seriously. Since there is no outright warfare going on here, the script has to pretty much recycle just about every tense moment from every other submarine movie not actually involving live combat.
The acting is good, but Harrison Ford is a bit tough to swallow as a Russian. His accent needs a little work, but other than that his performance was as good as he could have done for such a part. Neeson is terrific as usual. Peter Sarsgaard also shows great promise in this early effort of his. Hats off to director Kathryn Bigelow for using the claustrophobic environment of the submarine to her advantage. It must have been a difficult shoot, but she makes it work as well as you could hope. The film lost a small fortune at the box office for whatever reason. Maybe the absence of an American lead character was too much to overcome. Anyway, it is a shame that more people have yet to see this very good film. 7 of 10 stars.