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Guilty Pleasures

K-19 The Widowmaker  

Liam Neeson pretends to know nothing about the Ex-Lax in the coffee.


Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow 

Written by: Louis Nowra & Christopher Kyle

Main Cast:

Harrison Ford - Captain Alexei Vostrikov  
Liam Neeson - Captain Mikhail Polenin Peter  
Sam Spruell - Dimitri Nevsky  
Peter Stebbings - Kuryshev  
Peter Sarsgaard - Vadim Radtchenko  
Christian Camargo - Pavel Loktev  
Joss Ackland - Marshal Zelentsov  
Roman Podhora - Lapinsh  
Sam Redford - Vasily Mishin  
John Shrapnel - Admiral Bratyeev  
Donal Sumpter - Dr. Savran   
Steve Nicolson - Yuri Demichev  
Ravil Issyanov - Igor Suslov  
Tim Woodward - Konstantin Partonov
Lex Shrapnel - Mikhail Kornilov

Rated PG-13  

“You are a hero. You are all heroes.” 

To sum up: It's 1961 and we're on the Soviet Union's first nuclear powered submarine. You just know everything's gonna run smoothly.

     Two weathered old men who have not seen each other for years slowly approach one another. They are Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson and I suspect that this is how they both look without their make-up.

     They were both Soviet Naval Captains and the mission that they shared was taking out the first Soviet nuclear powered submarine to the Arctic Circle and launch a dummy nuclear warhead. A mission in which the new nuclear reactor nearly went critical and killed them all. 

     They are a contrast of styles. Ford, the old hardliner whose father fought in the Soviet Revolution and later died in the gulag. Neeson, the loving captain that is more of a father-figure to his crew. Ford, whose loyalty is toward the State and the Mother Country. Neeson, whose loyalty is to his men, whom he loves. Ford, who drills the crew to the brink of madness so they can be ready to go to the edge and beyond when the time comes. Neeson, who is against risking the crew unnecessarily for the sake of efficiency. Naturally, they are going to clash.

     This is a film that has the word nuclear in it. As a result, you know that everything is going to go to hell and the film reinforces that impending point of view from the beginning. They are rushed to launch on schedule. They can't get the right parts. The boat's leaky. The head nuclear engineer is found drunk on duty and is replaced with a rookie fresh out of the academy. The doctor dies in an accident and is replaced with a non-professional. The bottle to launch the ship doesn't break when it hits the sub, sending murmurs of "we're cursed" running through the crew. Indeed, we are told that 10 people have died and the ship hasn't even left the dock yet. And as the ship is launched from dock yards that I swear look just like West Virginia, doom is a thick, palpatable cloud that not only hangs over the crew but among them. 

     Is the reactor going to go critical? Of course. You would know this even if you haven't seen the trailers for the film. The real trick of the film is to make the journey interesting. And for the most part it does.

     The film would have been better if it could have avoided a few of the typical clichés that for some reason are always dragged into military films. Do ya think there's gonna be someone on the ship with a fiancé? You bet! He might as well say, "Hi. Here's a picture of my girlfriend. Would someone shoot me now since I have no chance of making it out of this film alive?" 

     Even the clash between the two captains is a cliché in itself, but it turns out that this element of the story is one of the best handled aspects of the film. Neither character is black and white. There are no "good guy" "bad guy" divisions here. Both are right, both are wrong, and both grow and learn to respect each other. 

     Harrison Ford gives one of his best performances in a while as the stubborn captain who needs to learn to care about his crew. Even with his on again off again Russian accent, it's a joy to watch the subtleties of his performance, especially during his realization that the ship is in real danger and there's not much that can be done. He says everything with his eyes that he cannot say out loud and it is an impressive reminder of how good he can be when he wants to.

     Liam Neeson, with a more solid accent, also fares well. He stands toe to toe with Ford producing a solid contrast to his more famous co-star. Their confrontations are the center of the film. Neither is compromised for the sake of the other and it makes for compelling movie watching. 

     The film is ultimately smart enough to put enough of a twist on the clichés that it is entertaining and in the end, you're not completely certain who is going to live and who will die. 

     This is a good submarine film. It is appropriately effective at demonstrating the fragile claustrophobia of a submarine with its knocks, pings, and leaks while in the vast depths of the ocean. 

     It also is good at producing sympathy for the people involved. Although I did not forget that these were people that were sworn to uphold Communism, I did care about what happened to the crew and their ultimate fate.

     As a sucker for submarine movies, I can recommend this one.

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