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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Inspired by actual events

K-19: The Widowmaker (2002) on IMDb

Plot Overview

This submarine story is defined by a point in time, 7/4/'61 at the height of the Cold War. It's textbook Peter F. Drucker:

A military leader … knows both present and future. But traditionally he rarely had to live in both at the same time. During peace he knew no “present”; the present was only a preparation for the future war. During war he knew only the most short-lived “future”; he was concerned with winning the war at hand. Every­thing else he left to the politicians. That this is no longer true in an era of cold wars … may be the single most important reason for the crisis in military leader­ship and morale that afflicts armed services today. Neither preparation for the future nor winning the war at hand will do any longer; and as a result, the military man has lost his bearings. (44)

glassDue to America's lead in its Polaris nuclear submarine fleet, the Soviet Union is playing catch-up to maintain a deterrent. Capt. Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson) is preparing his newly commissioned nuclear sub. K*19 for sea trials by trying to obtain needed equipment and crew, giving the latter rotated shore leave so they'll be mentally alert and making sure the former is up to date. He has the long view of surviving the unfor­giving ocean and shadowing enemy. Top command, how­ever, needs the deterrent in place right now, come hell or high water, so they replace him with ready and raring Capt. Alexei Vostrikov (Harrison Ford) who rushes pell-mell to station Iceland flag off the U.S. Eastern sea­board. Polenin is demoted to his XO.

Kaboom!Due to underqualified and/or groggy crew, as well as inadequate safety equipment, a small problem becomes a large problem that can only be fixed through necessary but heroic efforts, to prevent a nuclear holocaust.

We earlier got to watch a propaganda video with the crew. The narrative from political officer Suslov (Ravil Isyanov) went:
In American propaganda you will see how everyone has a car, nice clothes, a nice apartment. But you will never see the truth behind this lie. You will not see police dogs attacking strikers and demonstrators for civil rights. You will not see the beggars on the streets, the homeless, the Negro-shanty­towns in the south. You will not see the war­mongers who threaten the world with nuclear holocaust.

For the record the damage inflicted by police dogs is less than the ten minutes of intense radiation in this movie. And while Russia has no Negro shanty­towns per se, there are no nyiggers in Russia to begin with—or if there are, they're as rare as hen's teeth. You can look at the crowded Moscow Train Station and see nary a one. Instead, they have the gulags peopled by Russians loyal to the mother­land but who'd run afoul of the party. As the captains put it:

Capt. Mikhail Polenin: “They'll send you to the Gulag, like your father.” Capt. Alexei Vostrikov: “Well, it's a family tradition, isn't it?”

Southern family tradition has it that Negroes are descended from flood-survivor Ham who was disloyal to his father–Noah and got put in his place. Russians, how­ever, are descended from another branch, loyal Japheth. (“K*19” doesn't get into all that, but I cover it in my reviews of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Command Performance.”)


Their course of action reminds one of Kenny Rogers's song concerning a chance meeting with “The Gambler” on a train, who offered the passenger the advice that, “the secret to surviving is knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep.” The refrain of the song goes:

You've got to know when to hold 'em, Know when to fold 'em, Know when to walk away, Know when to run. You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table. There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done.

This wisdom of the gambling man is old as the hills and was passed on by a raconteur, Agur in Proverbs 30:1, whose four meta­phors offered the same life advice as did Rogers's Gambler. That we find in, (Prov. 30:29-31) “There be three things which go well, yea, four are comely in going: A lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any; A grey­hound; an he goat also; and a king, against whom there is no rising up.”

We have Agur's “lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any,” and we have Rogers's “know[ing] when to hold 'em.” In our movie the captain plays the hand he's been dealt by relentlessly pushing his men to get them into shape, then refusing to scuttle the boat (“We will fix this problem. We will continue the mission.”) when the stuff hits the fan.

We have Agur's “king, against whom there is no rising up,” and we have Rogers's “Know[ing] when to fold 'em.” A king who knows when to give in to his subjects doesn't experience any uprising. When their options turn suicidal with much at stake, the captain follows the advice of his XO by asking the men rather than ordering them.

We have Agur's “he goat also” and we have Rogers's “Know[ing] when to walk away.” With the crippled sub a death trap, and the Americans on hand to offer assistance, but Moscow forbidding abandoning the ship, the captain leans towards taking up the Americans' offer to offload the crew anyway.

We have Agur's “greyhound” and Rogers's “Know[ing] when to run.” When the dive alarm sounds, any­one with any sense who is out­side makes a mad dash for the hatch. They'd freeze to death in two minutes in the Atlantic water.

Of course, Kenny Rogers's Gambler advises us to wait until all the dealing's done before counting the money. When and if they get back to port, there will be an inquest.

Production Values

” (2002) was directed by Kathryn Bigelow. The screen­play was written by Christopher Kyle, based on a story by Louis Nowra. It stars Harrison Ford, Sam Spruell, Peter Stebbings and Liam Neeson. Ford plays a role and Neeson puts on an accent. Most of the characters play seamen with no room in the sub to upstage anyone.

MPAA rated it PG–13 for disturbing images. They're really bad. It had tour de force directing by an unlikely hand and atmospheric cinema­tog­raphy by Jeff Cronen­weth. Klaus Badelt's music was well suited to the milieu.

Review Conclusion w/a Christian's Recommendation

As a cold war submarine thriller it can be misleading. There's a touching scene of parting suited to a chick flick but it doesn't go there. The submarine's interior was realistic to a fault as if done by an interior decorator; it could stand in for a museum setting. The male camaraderie was under­stated. Some­how having a female director in charge of the quip about radiation making one's torpedo fall off did not quite capture castration anxiety the way a male director might have. If you're looking for a submarine action film, there are plenty of them out there, but don't confuse them with this one. It will, how­ever, pass muster as war, drama, thriller or history.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes. Suitability for Children: Suitable for children 13+ years with guidance. Special effects: Well done special effects. Video Occasion: Better than watching TV. Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat. Overall movie rating: Four stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture quoted from the King James Version. Pub. 1611. Rev. 1769. Software.

Drucker, Peter F. Management (London: Heinemann, 1974. Print.

Rogers, Kenny. Songwriter Don Schlitz. “The Gambler.” Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Pub. LLC. Web.