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K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)

A young submarine crew must learn the meaning of duty, honour and sacrifice

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 132 minutes

UK Certificate: 12


Harrison Ford stars as Alexi Vostrikov, a controversial Soviet submarine captain during the Cold War. He is assigned to command the Soviet navy's first nuclear submarine because the original candidate, Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson), was demoted from the position for political reasons. Polenin, however, remains on board as second-in-command, forcing Vostrikov to contend with the crew's loyalty to him.

The submarine is not without problems – even before it leaves dry-dock it has trouble passing inspection. The boat and her crew are sent out to sea to test a missile on her maiden voyage, which they manage to do after a few nervous moments. However, once submerged, a seal on the nuclear reactor fails and radiation leaks throughout the boat. Facing a nuclear disaster, Vostrikov decides that they must try to repair the reactor, as the only alternative is to ask the Americans for help and he is reluctant to do so. Volunteers are suited up to work in shifts inside the reactor, but even a few minutes of exposure to the radiation may be more than they can take.

This fair submarine disaster thriller is not perfect – it starts a little slowly, the Russian accents can be variable, and some could consider the ending corny. However, there are certainly more good points than bad to this film. Ignoring the accents, the acting is actually quite commendable, with plenty of depth coming through in the characters and their relationships. Once the reactor disaster has taken place, the tension rises rapidly, and full horror of the situation quickly becomes palpable. The look of the film seems just right – there's a coldness to it that reflects both the story and the wider political situation. The most outstanding scenes are those where the men are trying to fix the reactor – truly harrowing and yet entirely genuine at the same time, which actually increases their impact.

It's Got: A realistic grim view of life on a leaky nuclear sub.

It Needs: Harrison Ford’s Russian accent to be consistent.

DVD Extras A pleasing collection of extras for this single-disc release. Extras: Commentary by director Kathryn Bigelow and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, Making of, Make-up techniques, Breaching the Hull, It’s in the details, Theatrical trailer. DVD Extras Rating: 7/10


This gripping submarine disaster story has plenty of style and suspense, and the relationship between the characters makes it really worthwhile.