The story of USSR's first nuclear ballistic submarine, which suffered a malfunction in its nuclear reactor on its maiden voyage in the North Atlantic in 1961. The submarine's crew, led by the unyielding Captain Alexi Vostrikov, races against time to prevent a Chernobyl-like nuclear disaster which threatens not only the lives of his crew, but has the potential to ignite a world war between the super powers. Written by
The Soviet sailors who survived the events depicted in this movie heartily approved of the director's take on it, but were amused by the "Hollywoodized" elements. See more »
At the beginning of the movie, when the radio officer checks for Moscow's confirmation during the drill, the close-up shot of the radio panel shows the green light active and two white lights active. A second later the radio panel is shown again (which should look exactly the same as no actions were taken), this time the two white lights are inactive, and a third light is active. See more »
K-19 has a massive cast, especially in the two lead characters of
Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson) and Alexei Vostrikov (Harrison Ford). My
understanding is that Ford wanted to take on a role different than ones
he had taken in the past to prevent type-casting, and while he does a
good job in his role (as does just about everyone involved), the movie
does slip up a little bit by having an almost nonexistent Russian
presence in what is supposed to be the story of a Russian submarine.
Comparisons to the far superior Hunt for Red October are inevitable,
and it is interesting to note that that movie was also about a Russian
submarine but was presented all in English, but it doesn't lose
credibility the way K-19 does, probably because it at least maintained
a Russian accent, while Ford is speaking an unmistakable American
accent and Neeson, well, Neeson is just Neeson and that's always good.
He makes a great German but is less convincing as a Russian. I don't
Nevertheless, as a story about an extremely important submarine mission
rife with problems the movie succeeds brilliantly. K-19 is basically
Russia's protection again nuclear war, which they fear the Americans
might start at any moment. They hope to deter attack by showing
evidence that they can issue destruction in return, and it is because
of this that the sub is commissioned and sent on a mission to the polar
ice caps to launch a test missile. There is a great scene where all of
the crew and many other people are witnessing the launch of the
submarine, and a woman swings a bottle of champagne on a rope to smash
against the hull, but it bounces off unbroken. "We're cursed," one of
the dismayed crewmen says. That woman must have felt terrible.
There is an immediate rivalry between Polenin, who understands the
ship's limitations and wants them corrected before beginning the
mission, and Vostrikov, who also understands the ship's limitations but
also understands how important the mission is and so outranks Polenin's
protests. One of the best things about the movie is that the dramatic
action is pushed along by genuine concerns. The movie would have
suffered terribly if they were ignoring such important problems with
the submarine without good reason.
One of the best things about the movie is that it is able to create so
much dramatic tension, even though it takes place during peacetime.
There was a huge amount of political tension in the air, but there
wasn't a war going on. This is why there is not a lot of concern shown
when an American destroyer is sighted near the submarine, because one
of the goals of the mission is for the Americans to see what they're
Instead, a small leak aboard the nuclear sub becomes a problem big
enough to potentially start a war. Incidentally, one of the crewmen
noticed something wrong with one of the dials at least twice before the
leak was discovered (once before the ship left port). Had he reported
that problem when he first noticed it, he could have saved the lives of
everyone who died because of the radiation and prevented the entire
thing. At any rate, once the leak is discovered, the options are to
abandon ship and surrender the crucial technology to the Americans (a
single concession which could dramatically alter the futures of the two
nations, and thus rendering it unacceptable), try to repair the reactor
without sufficient protection against the radiation, or scuttle the
ship (also unacceptable because of the boat's importance).
There is a tense scene where Vostikov orders the ship to dive to almost
crush depth, one of the obligatory scenes in submarine movies where the
hull creaks and groans and everyone stares at the ceiling, like there's
something to see there, and then he orders the ship to ascend at
breakneck speed, surfacing through a layer of ice. Vostrikov intends to
push the boat and the men to the limit so that they all know what the
limit is, but unfortunately it culminates in a hugely disappointing
display of digital effects as the ship breaks through the ice in
something that looks more like it belongs in a cartoon than a serious
film like this (I was reminded of the unfortunate Scrat's efforts to
save an acorn from a splitting glacier in Ice Age).
The film requires an extra bit of suspension of disbelief to accept a
story about a Russian submarine but without any Russian actors. I'm
curious to know how it was received in Russia. I imagine it was a hit,
despite the lack of Russian presence in the film, because it
illustrates their courage and dedication to their country in the most
difficult of times. But nonetheless, it is hugely effective and never
lets up once it gets going. The ending strikes me as the part where the
most creative liberties were taken with the original true story,
leaving you with the feeling of a Hollywood ending imposed on a true
story from Russian and American history. But if nothing else, the movie
is a fascinating look at how close we came to widespread destruction
during one of the most tense times in modern history.
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