Review: The Command

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

the command, kursk, posterPLOT: Based on the true story of the 2000 K-141 Kursk submarine disaster, in which twenty-three sailors on board a crippled sub awaited rescue for five days while the Russian government refused aid from the UK and Norwegian crews standing by to launch a speedy rescue.

REVIEW: THE COMMAND is pretty well-timed. While it made nary a peep at TIFF last year, where it screened under it’s original (better) title, KURSK, coming out now hot on the heels of HBO’s “Chernobyl”, the film now plays almost like a quasi-sequel to that event series, which has captured the zeitgeist. In fact, at one moment in the film, a character warns that the Kursk disaster, in which torpedoes detonated aboard the sub and killed the majority of its crew almost immediately, could have been another Chernobyl, thanks to the nuclear reactors on the ship which, thank God, shut down safely after the explosions.

Like that mini, this depicts the government’s proud posturing, with their efforts to avoid embarrassment about the state of their fleet dooming the survivors to a slow agonizing death. As director Thomas Vinterberg depicts it, the situation was thoroughly unnecessary. While focusing more on the heroic rescue attempts and the survivors' efforts to survive, the film nonetheless presents a disturbing portrait of bureaucracy at its worst. The most chilling moment, perhaps even more intense than the disaster itself, is when a mother, desperate for some kind of rescue attempt to be launched, is forcibly drugged at a press conference given by the Navy (a real event that was captured on video and made international news).

It’s a shame that THE COMMAND is getting a VOD release as Vinterberg’s film, which was produced by Luc Besson’s now-endangered Europa Corp, is a pretty lavish affair. Clearly designed for the big screen, DP Anthony Dod Mantle (Danny Boyle’s regular lenser) shoots in differing aspect ratios, favoring a TV-style 1:85:1 window boxing for the early scenes in Russia, before widening to 2:35:1 scope. This would have been extremely effective on the big screen, but seems more like a distraction on the small screen (I can imagine viewers thinking their display is screwed up). It also has a classy score by Alexandre Desplat and a pretty all-star cast.

It’s headed up by Matthias Schoenaerts as the Captain of the Kursk, whose selflessness has earned him his crew’s devotion both and off the ship. Early scenes depict them as a quasi-family, where the men all pawn their expensive Mariner’s Watches to pay for a crewman’s wedding. Léa Seydoux plays his pregnant wife, who can do little more than watch in horror as the Navy delays their rescue, with Max Von Sydow playing the old guard Admiral spokesperson.

the command, colin firthColin Firth, whose role is arguably the main selling point to American audiences, has a supporting part as the English Commodore, who heroically tries to negotiate a way for his crew to launch a rescue, but is stymied at every turn. Meanwhile, things grow ever grimmer on the Kursk, whose crew increasingly seems doomed. All three are excellent, with Schoenaerts delivering another fine performance (he often strikes me as a somewhat lower-key Tom Hardy), although Séydoux has relatively little to do outside of a few good scenes.

Overall, this is an effective depiction of a horrendous event in Russia’s history, well written by SAVING PRIVATE RYAN’s Robert Rodat, although considering what went on behind the scenes, they maybe play things a little safe at times. Putin apparently had a role in the original cut (where he was apparently depicted sympathetically) but it was cut from the film for release. While it’s a rather grim tale, it’s a pretty interesting, well-acted one, and definitely worth a look if you’re hungry for more Russian intrigue after “Chernobyl”.


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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.