K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)

(In theaters, July 2002) The fall of the Soviet Union has revealed countless good stories about life on the other side of the Iron Curtain, and a few dramatic ones. This cold-war thriller detailing a particularly dramatic nuclear submarine trip highlights the appalling conditions of the Soviet Navy and the heroism of the men stuck on these boats. It’s compelling, but far more so as a fictionalized documentary rather than a straight-up thriller. Not much is done to differentiate the characters, but director Katheryn Bigelow knows how to crank the tension on scenes that need it, and the big centerpiece of the film works well as a suspense sequence. The rest of the film is quiet, saddled with an unnecessary epilogue and doesn’t deliver nearly as much as it ought to. Nevertheless, there is a lot to like in the authentic re-creation of life aboard these submarines, the set design and the unusual glimpse in a wholly different environment. Worth a look for submarine buffs, certainly, but the general public expecting a war thriller may want to wait a while.

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