K-19: The Widowmaker Review

Should the meaning of “Widowmaker” mean that this nuclear disaster flick is to leave many widows in waiting, then director Kathryn Bigelow is bang on the money. K-19: The Widowmaker marks her calm before the storm. Before the Academy Award glory, but after the charming action stylings of Point Break. As we board the Soviet submarine, panic is imminent and immediate. We are given a taste of what is to come, and how these captains and crewmates will adapt to the hectic, startling surroundings of this true and terrifying story. But that is that. It is a true story, and should the detail deviate from reality, then Bigelow misses the point. What is her point here, then? Other than to make a palatable action flick.  

There is an impressive visual scale found within K-19: The Widowmaker. As we feast our eyes on the submarine above the ocean, the bustling, claustrophobic nature of the control room is brought to life. Bigelow crafts a strong parallel between the open space of this land outdoors and the problems of bureaucracy with that of the confinement and military values of a submarine. Where Bigelow boasts her best work is the ruminating tensions before the inevitable disaster. Her composition during the calm before the storm is intense and interesting. She never quite captures that in the later moments of the film, despite capable work from Liam Neeson, Harrison Ford and Peter Saarsgard.  

It is no fault of anyone. Sometimes a script simply does not pull the desirable effects. Budget, blockbuster direction and big-name draws are not always enough, yet they should be. While the allure and appeal of a Neeson and Ford collaboration are present throughout, Bigelow never quite utilises their relationship and chemistry. They are amicable and present, with no real bite or breach of confidence or trust in their early moments. We are all set for a voyage of complete quality. Inevitably, cooler heads do not prevail, it just feels a tad late to do so when much of the build-up is reliant on bad omens, signs that K-19 should not ship out, and the scepticism of luck. That much is present, but not presented. We can pick it apart, but doing so dives too deep into what K-19: The Widowmaker really is.  

By ditching the tropes and traditions of the all-American action hero, Bigelow stacks the odds up against herself. A bold move. Perhaps a necessary one to cut through with some level of interest that goes beyond seeing big-name stars shine through. They are from that land with which America warred all those decades ago. For whatever reason, they cannot let go of that. While the Cold War ructions still linger on, that does not quite explain the lukewarm abilities of K-19: The Widowmaker, whose problems run deeper than the depths of the ocean this squad find themselves in. Unconvincing dialects, deep-sea decision-making is at the core of this damp attempt at kindling fear of the Russians once more. Palatable enough as a biopic, but incredibly unrewarding, especially when we sit through dense dialogue that does nothing to entice or excite.  

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