K-19: The Widowmaker

K-19: The Widowmaker

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Kathryn Bigelow’s K-19: The Widowmaker is not without allegorical implications. The crew aboard the Russian sub K-19 gets the skinny on American double standards via newsreel footage (glamour shots of American suburbia interspliced with thorny images of the KKK in action) that might as well have been edited by Mr. Eisenstein himself. If Cpt. Alexi Vostrikov (Harrison Ford) is the destructive Russian worker, then K-19 is his Bolshevik platform. Capt. Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson) butts ideological heads with Vostrikov when the latter is placed in command of the film’s nuclear submarine. The ship’s crew scoffs at religious icons though most put their faith in the power of the machine. It’s easy to read the film as an allegory for the fall of communism yet Bigelow doesn’t so much condemn K-19 as she does Vostrikov’s treatment of the machine. The director extols the tireless perseverance of the ship’s workers, expertly weighing and juggling parallel tug-of-wars (Polenin vs. Vostrikov, inevitable death or American surrender). Those unfamiliar with the true-life story of the K-19 will surely benefit from said ignorance (if the film’s first half is thoroughly tiresome, the second half is anything but). Still, Bigelow has Neeson’s Polenin make a dubious 360-degree turn that feels wholly disingenuous, compromising her proudly-we-stand rhetoric with a mutiny-within-a-mutiny that smells an awful lot like a trick ending. Those wary of an American-produced paean to Mother Russia’s finest will miss the subtle, conflicted propaganda at work here. If you doubt the ballsiness of this sometimes conflicted experiment, check out the font size of Bigelow’s closing credit. First Sergei, then Lena, now Kathryn. Who knew?

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Distributor
Paramount Pictures
Runtime
135 min
Rating
PG-13
Year
2002
Director
Kathryn Bigelow
Screenwriter
Christopher Kyle
Cast
Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson, Sam Spruell, Christian Camargo, Roman Podhora, Sam Redford, Steve Nicolson, Ravil Isyanov, Tim Woodward, Lex Shrapnel, Shaun Benson, Kristen Holden-Reid