K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)
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The Basics: Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson in a Tom Clancy-esque submarine Cold War thriller; directed by Kathryn Bigelow
If You Liked: The Hunt for Red October, Das Boot, and U-571
The Nugget: A shipboard malfunction threatens to scuttle the maiden voyage of Russia’s first nuclear-equipped submarine and brings the two highest-ranking officers (Ford and Neeson) to blows.
After demonstrating her mastery of turbo-charged action spectacle in movies like Point Break and Strange Days, Bigelow landed her first $100 million summer thriller with this based-on-a-true-story account of the disaster that befell the titular Russian submarine. (Interestingly, K-19 wasn’t funded by any of the big American studios, instead cobbling its budget together from various independent sources, including National Geographic.) Unfortunately, the film’s disappointing box office returns confined its director to movie jail for several years, before she bounced back in 2009 with The Hurt Locker and won history-making best director and best picture Oscars. In retrospect, K-19 is something of a trial run for that later movie, with Bigelow making expert use of the claustrophobic tension offered by the setting and effectively dramatizing the clash of wills between a pair of very different soldiers. Despite their shaky Russian accents, both Ford and Neeson are well-matched antagonists, and Peter Sarsgaard has a memorable supporting role as a cowardly crew member who ends up courageously making the ultimate sacrifice. Now that Bigelow’s coming off the biggest hit of her career, Zero Dark Thirty, K-19 shows why it’s time for her to re-enter the $100 million club.
Photo credit: Everett