Office Christmas Party
Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…
Movies involving submarines have the logic of chess: The longer the game goes, the fewer the possible remaining moves. "K-19: The Widowmaker" joins a tradition that includes "Das Boot" and "The Hunt for Red October" and goes all the way back to "Run Silent, Run Deep." The variables are always oxygen, water pressure and the enemy. Can the men breathe, will the sub implode, will depth charges destroy it?
The submarine K-19 is not technically at war, so there are no depth charges, but the story involves a deadlier threat: Will the onboard reactor melt down, causing a nuclear explosion and possibly triggering a world war? The movie is set in 1961, at the height of the Cold War, and is loosely based on a real incident. A new Soviet nuclear sub is commissioned before it is shipshape, and sails on its first mission as a bucketful of problems waiting to happen. Many of the problems are known to its original captain, Polenin (Liam Neeson). But when he insists after a test run that the submarine is not capable, he is joined on board by Capt. Alexei Vostrikov (Harrison Ford), who outranks him and is married to the niece of a member of the Politburo.
Both men are competent naval officers, and Polenin does his best to work with Vostrikov; his men consider Polenin their captain but are persuaded to go along with the senior man, even after Vostrikov orders a dive that tests the ultimate limits of the sub's capabilities. (Such scenes, with rivets popping and the hull creaking, are obligatory in submarine movies.) Most of the big scenes take place in close quarters on the command desk, where dramatic lighting illuminates the faces and eyes of men who are waiting for the sub's shell to crack. By casting the two leading roles with authoritative actors, "K-19" adds another level of tension; if one were dominant and the other uncertain, there would be a clear dramatic path ahead, but since both Vostrikov and Polenin are inflexible, self-confident and determined, their rivalry approaches a standoff.
The sub's mission is to demonstrate the Soviet Union's new nuclear submarine power to the spy planes of the Kennedy administration. The sub's voyage is shadowed by a U.S. destroyer, which is not unwelcome, since the purpose of this mission is to be seen. When there is an accident involving one of the onboard nuclear reactors, however, the game changes: If the reactor explodes and destroys the U.S. ship, will that event be read, in the resulting confusion, as an act of war? K-19 could surface and put its men in lifeboats, but for Vostrikov the thought of the United States capturing the new technology is unthinkable. Therefore, the options are to repair the reactor, or dive the boat to its destruction.