K:19 THE WIDOWMAKER

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Germany/UK/USA. 2002.


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Here in Halifax, Nova Scotia we support our film community, and we love the big budget groups that come here to play every year. We had great fun with Two if By Sea.  We snickered patriotically under our breath as the locally produced The Scarlet Letter politely thanked the province of Halifax in their end credits. Most recently we have all been ogling Rob Lowe from a distance as he filmed The Christmas Shoes. But no, repeat no duo of Hollywood stars has caused as much of a stir in the local scene as K:19 stars Harrison Ford, and Liam Neeson.  When those two wandered into our city by the harbour we (the women in town anyway) quickly formed into two factions, the unofficial stalkers, and the women who pretended they were far too hip to care. (Though that particular position went straight out the window the second either of the major studmuffins, Liam in particular, walked into The Economy Shoe Shop [a local pub] To those ladies, and you know who you are, I’ve never seen such dramatic displays of tossing yourselves at people. The word for the day is: Subtlety. I’m surprised Liam wasn’t injured by the various heaving body parts.) 

Almost the whole city turned out for the premiere of K:19 either to a) gawk at the two leading men, (mostly women) b) make disparaging comments at the two leading men’s expense (mostly men) c) the local submariners/extras, (sadly only men) squinting and pointing at the screen to see if they could spot themselves. All the way through the movie cries of “There I am!! I think!!!” echoed around the theatre.

K:19 The Widowmaker is the true (or Hollywood true at any rate) of Russia’s first nuclear submarine on its’ testing run. Things go horribly wrong on it’s maiden voyage leading the Captain with a world altering decision to make. How will the novice crew avert a nuclear explosion, and certain war between the two biggest world powers?

Liam Neeson (Gunshy, Before and After) plays second-in-command Mikhail Polenin. Here, just in case he reads this, is a personal comment from me:

(Edited for Family Audience) “Darn you all to heck for making me cry in public again.”

K:19 The Widowmaker. All Rights Reserved.Neeson gives the film a realistic feel, (for the first ten minutes until Harrison Ford arrives) making Polenin an incredibly charismatic character. Neeson’s power and aura as a performer made Polenin feel like an invincible leader (to say nothing of the fact that his accent is pretty darn good, considering he would have had to overcome his natural thick brogue). The frustration he felt at having to constantly obey the obviously insane commanding officer’s (Harrison Ford) orders was a nice touch too, though I kept wondering throughout the film why it was that the submarine crew simply didn’t rise up and take over the boat, as Neeson’s character was obviously attempting to help, and lead them whereas Ford’s character seemed to be trying to kill them in the most expedient way he could find. I really could understand why the crew of “K:19" were paying attention to Polenin for Neeson played him as caring about the crew, and a smart commander. He really made K:19 feel like an intelligent, emotion filled drama.

Then Indiana Jones arrived onscreen and the movie turned from K:19 Exciting Adventure to K:19 and the Nutty Submarine Commander.  As Captain Alexei Vostrikov, Harrison Ford (The Mosquito Coast, What Lies Beneath) is surprisingly plank-like. There is next to no emotion put in to the majority of the role. His HORRID Russian accent appears and disappears throughout the movie. (Think Kevin Costner’s dismal English accent in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, only much worse.) The worst part of the whole thing, is that you have the sense that his men are following him out of a sense of morbid curiosity and not much else. Vostrikov’s motivations are never explained, he’s just continually putting the lives of his crew in danger overandoverandoverandoverandover again. The lack of explanation for his actions might have been passed off as a slightly mad military man, were it not for the fact that Neeson’s character is constantly making suggestions to the commander that make perfect sense and are always ignored in favour of more lethal options. Like, his various attempts to lodge the boat in the ocean floor seconds after Polenin tactfully advises  “Captain, perhaps we don’t want to take the submarine down to a depth where it will cave in like a soup can under the hoof of a Budweiser Clydesdale.” Or when Polenin attempts to step in and advise against Vostrikov’s master plan to hold an underwater science fair by seeing what would happen if he drove his boat at 1,000,000,000 miles an hour through a 360 foot thick ice flow. In fairness, Ford’s capability to emote does show up in the last 45 minutes, but his previous 90 have been so terrible that all those great scenes serve to do is make you think “Where in the (edited for family audience) heck was all this feeling in the first half of K:19 ?” Though it goes against my family’s entire genetic makeup (everyone from my grandmom down loves this man) to critique Harrison Ford, his performance in this is truly terrible. 

If you’re in the theatre with a native Nova Scotian, you’ll know it. We’re the ones who are chuckling quietly to ourselves as the submarine chugs out to sea, past the local casino, and McNab’s Island. (Located in the middle of Halifax harbour.) We’re the ones who spend the movie wondering whether or not Halifax’s doubling for Wintery Moscow is an insult. We’re also the ones with our chests puffed out with pride (or in case Liam’s looking in some instances) because our little town by the sea was visited by such Hollywood giants as these two. Upon exiting the theatre however, you’ll find us becoming unusually proud of our little province, not wishing to admit the fact that a film that was made within our borders, had such a poor performance in it as Ford’s. That painful exhibit of slab of Formica acting not withstanding; K:19 is definitely worth a big screen viewing. It has Neeson, (who is worth watching in anything he appears in), the supporting cast is absolutely stellar, and the special effects are fantastic. I just hope that Indiana Jones 4 comes through, because after this, and his recent string of (insert sarcastic tone here) WONDERFUL movies like What Lies Beneath (shudder) the Han Solo/Indiana Jones/Richard Kimble image is fading pretty fast. 

Jen Johnston
 
 
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