Briefly the flagship of the Soviet navy, the nuclear submarine K-19 was dubbed "The Widowmaker" before it even left port; it claimed 10 lives during its construction and failed tests up to the last minute. Even the champagne bottle used to christen it refused to yield, and in K-19: The Widowmaker, director Kathryn Bigelow lets the camera linger on the dangling, unbroken bottle, dwarfed by the ship's massive bulk, until it looks less like a bad omen than a taunt from fate itself. Making something of an anti-action film, Bigelow has the difficult task of telling the story of a disaster averted, building toward an explosion that, had it occurred, might have heated the Cold War tensions of 1961 to the point of global catastrophe. Harrison Ford's face dominates K-19's posters, but the prominence of one star runs contrary to more than the Communist principles of the military his character serves; it runs against the ethos of the film itself. An officer who married well within the party, and whose father's Lenin-era heroics failed to save him from the Gulag later in life, Ford assumes control of the ship shortly before her maiden voyage, replacing its beloved captain Liam Neeson but allowing him to stay on as K-19's executive officer. A clash of managerial styles soon follows, as Ford puts the crew through its paces—and then some—in preparation for launching the test missile that will announce the ship's arrival to the rest of the world. But even Ford's hard-nosed approach fails to prepare the ship for the malfunction that follows. Since the modern vampire classic Near Dark, Bigelow has specialized in thrillers that weld slickness and thoughtfulness with varying degrees of success. In this case, she's successful in building tension between the well-matched Ford and Neeson, and capturing the crew's mounting anxiety as she negotiates the sub's narrow corridors to find dials whose readings portend a disaster that could stretch well beyond the ship's walls. A paean to the heroism that arises out of duty and teamwork, K-19 takes its cues from Das Boot. It never outdoes that film (possibly no submarine movie could), but it similarly explores ideals in isolation, following characters in service of a faded ideology, pursuing a conflict abandoned long ago. In the end, it goes too far, letting its characters express values to the accompaniment of a score so overbearing that it lacks only the Vienna Boys' Choir. After spending so much time letting the characters' deeds do the talking, the film veers into overkill, which comes as a letdown. But the actions linger longer than the words. —

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