For a decent summer flick, “Widowmaker” doesn’t disappoint

By Gus Bode

“K19:The Widowmaker” (film review)

Running time:2 hours and 18 minutes

“K19:The Widowmaker” is a breath of fresh air at a time where how well a movie does is often based on how many special effects there are. “K19” replaces the usual flash with good acting and good chemistry and replaces giant explosions and shiny effects with true suspense.


Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, “K19” starts out at a dry dock in Cold War-era Soviet Union. The K19 is Russia’s flagship nuclear submarine, and its construction must be completed quickly so that the United States will see that Russia has a nuclear submarine in the water. Liam Neeson starts out the movie as humanistic submarine captain Mikhail Polenin. To Polenin, the submarine is a family, and he is the father. The submarine is plagued with problems because of a quick and shoddy construction. One of these problems manifests during a mock missile firing in front of Moscow brass, and Polenin is removed from command of the sub for not blaming his crew.

Harrison Ford’s excellent performance as Captain Alexi Vostrikov begins as he is brought in as Polenin’s replacement. Vostrikov’s hard-nosed, authoritarian personality manifests early on as he fires the ship’s nuclear officer for drunkenness during his initial tour of the sub. From this point on, Vostrikov plays foil to Polenin’s kind and gentle captain, and the tension between the two of them rises as well. It ‘s almost kind of amazing to see two top-notch actors go at it after seeing months of tripe that is normally billed as a movie.

As the ship is readied for its inaugural launch, more things go wrong. The ship’s doctor is killed by a truck, and during the launching ceremony, the champagne bottle doesn’t break. “We are cursed,” mutters one sailor. With these mishaps and accidental deaths that occurred during the ship’s construction, the sailors dub the ship “The Widowmaker.”

The sub proceeds to the Arctic Circle, where the crew is to fire a test nuclear missile. On the way, Vostrikov drills the crew relentlessly, and an opposition between himself and members of the crew opens up. Two men are badly injured during a fire drill, but Vostrikov’s cold demeanor keeps up. The intensity of the drills is well communicated by Bigelow’s directing. The low hum of uneasiness present throughout the movie increases to a roar of suspense in these scenes. Vostrikov brings the submarine to its physical limits and takes crewmembers to the limits of their sanity.

After a successful missile launch, the situation of the boat goes down to the grimmer depths that the submersible itself sails at. The crew receives orders from Moscow to begin a patrol off of the United States eastern seaboard between New York and Washington, D.C. The nuclear reactor of the ship springs a leak en route, and the crew has four hours to prevent a meltdown. Making matters worse, the sub is stranded with a NATO base nearby and a U.S. destroyer observing them. If the reactor melts down, it could be seen as an attack, and trigger a nuclear holocaust.

The graphic suspense brought to life in this movie is at it’s best during the scenes in which the crew tries to avoid war. Horrifying images of radiation poisoning are shown as the desperate sailors try to repair the reactor in only chemical suits, as radiation suits were not in stock soon enough for the ship to be launched.

Stranded, out of contact with Moscow and with the American’s floating above them, tension between Vostrikov and Polenin also comes to a head. The most important thing to Vostrikov is the mission, and the most important thing to Polenin is the crew. It comes out that the two captains are just different sides of the same coin.


“K19” moves along at a good clip and doesn’t leave you hanging very much. The directing is good all the way through but doesn’t glow too brightly at any point. The acting for the parts of the crew is decent, but Neeson and Ford shine. The good acting takes care of any inconsistencies, but when an actor reaches the level that both Neeson and Ford are at, the great acting should be a given.

Overall, “K19” is a good film that gets better as it moves along. At 138 minutes, this movie is slightly on the long side, but generally it isn’t an issue. If you want to get away from movies made for (or by) the MTV generation, this is a good choice, and it won’t treat you like you’re unintelligent. It has good acting, great suspense and will be a fun way to spend a hot summer night.

Reporter Alex Haglund can be reached at [email protected]