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K-19: The Widowmaker
BLU-RAY disk
05.21.2010 By: Aaron the H
K-19: The Widowmaker order download
Director:
Kathryn Bigelow

Actors:
Harrison Ford
Liam Neeson
Peter Saarsgard

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
In 1961, at the height of the Cold War, a new Russian submarine carrying nukes runs into problems when the ship starts leaking radiation. It's up to a stubborn captain (Harrison Ford) to decide whether to sink the ship, save his men, or try to find a way to do both.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
I want to know who had the cajones to greenlight this film. I want to know who put up a reported $80 million budget, despite the talented director, despite the impressive cast, and yes, despite the compelling story, for a movie that romanticizes our Cold War enemies as they tried to prepare nuclear weapons to potentially fire at us. Didnít they know about the infamously stubborn patriotism of Americans? The American audienceís distaste for movies about people from other countries?

Well, they know now, as the movie ended up being a notorious flop (grossed only $35 million domestically). This is a shame too, because the end product is a pretty entertaining and interesting historical tale. The first mistake, which probably seemed like the filmís greatest asset, was casting Harrison Ford as the lead in the film. He does a great job here, as always, and is a box office draw, but seeing our beloved Indiana Jones, our beloved Han Solo, a man who once played the president of the United States, now putting on a [spotty] Russian accent to play a man hell-bent on defending Mother Russia against the United States, that was just too much for us to handle. I gave the film a chance however, overlooked the political history of it, and tried to take it for the more personal story of heroism on behalf of the fateful men aboard the vessel, and found myself pretty engaged.

Watching Ford duke it out on-screen with Liam Neeson (who curiously decided to not even attempt a Russian accent) is a real joy to watch, rivaling the De Niro vs. Pacino battle of Heat (though not quite that epic). Peter Saarsgard and a group of unknowns round out the cast of tortured but courageous submariners on the ship that pretty much became the submarine version of the Titanic. Director Kathryn Bigelow, despite obviously having a vagina, is known for making some of the most awesomely testosterone-fueled films on the planet (The Hurt Locker, Point Break), and this film has balls in spades, in more ways than one (I think there is only one brief female onscreen in the entire film). The tension is extremely palpable in the steamy, cramped quarters of K-19, and editing an camera-work ramp up the intensity.

If thereís one criticism to bestow on the film, and it is a doozy, itís the supremely difficult to follow terminology thrown around like with regularity. I donít speak submariner, and Iím sure the cast majority of the audience doesnít either, so I donít know how they expected us to figure out what the hell these guys are talking about, what button does what, what coolant just exploded what rod, etc. Maybe a solution would have been to add a character who was a newbie that they had to explain things to in layman terms, although that surely would have dumbed-down the film to a level probably not suitable for these filmmakers. By the end of it all, you can start to piece together exactly what the problem is enough to get behind the thing, though unfortunately, the end does get a bit sappy and a little too Hollywood.
THE EXTRAS
Feature Commentary with director Kathryn Bigelow and Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth - A very informative, though not very energetic commentary track.

The Making of K19: The Widowmaker (20:16) - The sure donít make Ďem like this anymore. Rather than the typical fluff piece weíve come to expect out of a Behind-the-Scenes, this one talks a bit about the true story, and then delves into the construction of the sub, the logistics of shooting in a sub, training for the actors, etc. Very interesting.

Exploring the Craft: Make-up Techniques (5:27) - It may seem strange to do a featurettte on make-up in a movie about dudes on a submarine, but it makes sense once you see the flick, focusing on the radiation poisoning and some aging make-up. Well made and informative.

Breaching the Hull (5:11) - Another very effective featurette, this one showing how they shot the sub breaching the ice in a particularly exhilarating action sequence. Love that they decided to use miniatures intead of CG.

Itís In the Details (11:20) - A final featurette, also well-made, about the exhaustive research and attention to detail that went into the making of this film. I give Bigelow and her team (and the team behind these special features) mucho props for all their exhaustive efforts, which went a long way.

The filmís somewhat misleading trailer (ďTheyíre firing a torpedo!Ē) is also provided.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
Ultimately doomed by the fact that it takes beloved American actors, turns them into our Russian enemies during the Cold War, and then makes heroes out of them, K-19 was an unfortunate casualty before it even left the dock. That said, if you can get over your patriotism (and you should), you'll find a pretty entertaining, solidly made submarine thriller, made all the more alluring by the fact that much of it is true.
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