A review of “K-19 The Widowmaker” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: **

Rating: PG-13 for violence, action

Run Time: 2 hours, 18 minutes



Whose crummy idea was it to cast Harrison Ford as a Soviet submarine commander?  The fourth pseudo-intellectual action film to be released this summer is a mildly preposterous spin on the actual Cold War events aboard the pride of the Russian fleet, K-19.

No submarine cliché is left unturned.  “Widowmaker” follows Captain Alexei Vostrikov (Ford), who is ordered to take over the command of K-19 during its 1961 sea trials.  Vostrikov replaces Captain Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson), a crew favorite who was demoted following a dry-run disgrace, but remains onboard as second in command (hint: ego conflict).

Vostrikov is every submariner’s nightmare – distant, humorless, and loyal to the Mother Country at all costs.  Naturally, there are problems during the trials, including a reactor cooling system failure that could result in a core meltdown that would kill everyone onboard.  Knowing full well that 200 million Soviet citizens are depending on the stalwart Russian Navy for protection, Vostrikov refuses to entertain suggestions of failure. Scuttling the flagship of the fleet is unthinkable, even if it means the destruction of the ship and its passengers.

“Widowmaker” is an insult to the memory of Wolfgang Petersen’s gripping, iron-cylinder classic “Das Boot” (1981). Perhaps most disappointing is the virtual soft-sell of the film’s pivotal point.  Vostrikov’s fear that the failing reactor will unintentionally fire a missile on a nearby American destroyer, and jump-start World War III, is played out as a minor footnote to the hackneyed histrionics of noble boys in jaunty naval stripes.

Ford claims that he chose to play his part with a Russian accent to dignify the Russian effort put forth during this heroic historical event. But his guttural mutterings only serve to heighten perception of the absurd casting choice.  Key melodramatic touches include a hyper-manipulative score, glycerin tears of pride, and a whopping helping of Soviet patriotism that translates into sickening doses of radiation poisoning as small teams of brave lads are sent into the core to try to repair the sub’s damage. 

Is it a message movie or an action-packed submarine spectacular?  Alas, it’s neither.