K-19: The Widowmaker  (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

aka Mentos-19: the Freshmaker

I think it is a true story of the one and only Irish nuclear submarine and its quest to get the Lucky Charms from the Underwater Leprechaun. At least, I guess that's what it's about, since the captain and the exec were both speaking English with strong Irish accents, especially Liam Neeson as the exec. Of course, Neeson was just speaking like Neeson. Harrison Ford actually learned an Irish accent specifically to play this part. You'd think somebody along the line would have told him he was playing a Russian. Now that I think about it, they also forgot to remind Sean Connery of that in The Hunt for Red October. But that was different. It is perfectly sensible to have Russian submarine officers speaking with a Scottish accent. But Irish? Another story altogether.


No female nudity.

There was some long distance male nudity when some crew members were being decontaminated.

Frankly, I don't get the whole accent thing at all. If you are playing the part of a person who speaks English with a Polish accent, then by all means learn to do so properly, as Streep did in Sophie's Choice. But why do Russians speaking Russian have to be represented by people speaking to one another in English with a cheesy accent? Makes no sense to me. Especially if it is a cheesy Irish accent.

Actually, if you ignore those Gaelic brogues, it's quite an exciting submarine yarn, with a constant atmosphere of tension, and a powerful emotional kicker. It's actually a fictionalized account of the ill-fated voyage of a Russian nuclear sub in the height of the cold war.

The sub was scheduled to test Russia's ability to fire missiles from submarines, and the test was to be performed in such a way that the capitalist pig Americans would become fully aware of the power of Mother Russia's new floating armada of nuclear subs. It was fundamentally a political mission. The sub had not yet been confirmed as seaworthy when the politicos insisted that the mission was to begin. When the captain balked, the politicians replaced him with another captain (Harrison Ford), the nephew of a politburo member. Although the new captain was a good navy man, he also understood that the political goals of the country and the party superceded the technical sailing concerns of the Navy. If the party wanted a test, he would give them a test or die trying.

I don't know how much of this story is true, but it's hard to imagine that so many things could go wrong or almost go wrong on a single voyage.  First the new captain had to see if the ship could stand its designed diving depth, so he took it down to the maximum allowable level. Walls shook, rivets popped, men stared at the ceiling, the usual submarine movie stuff, but everything held up. That was followed almost immediately by a test of the sub's ability to crash through a thin layer of ice, which was necessary to launch the missile in the designated polar region. Then there was a meltdown in the nuclear reactor. Then they had to worry about the fact that an explosion would not only kill them, but also trigger a nuclear war by destroying a nearby American battleship. Then they had a fire on board. Then their makeshift repairs fell apart, and the reactor started another meltdown. Then somebody tied Pauline to the railroad tracks. Then they had to consider whether to ask the Americans for help, thus betraying their secret technology. Then they had a mutiny. Then someone tied Pauline to a log headed for the old sawblade ...

 ... and that's only about half way through the film. After that point, stuff really started happening ...

... followed by several unexpected plot twists, and a grand emotional finale.

Since the Soviet Union endured intact for another 28 years after the crisis portrayed here, and since admitting such a disaster was not politically acceptable back then, all of the surviving members of the Mentos-19 crew were sworn to secrecy. It was about 30 years later when they finally reunited to share their memories and to mourn their fallen comrades. Those still alive now must be well aware of the ironic fact that their heroism was finally immortalized by their capitalist pig enemies in an American movie.

The film seems to compress an unrealistic amount of crisis and heroism into such a short voyage, and tries to work in every single submarine cliché from every classic sub story in film history. I guess they made a list of everything exciting that could possibly happen on a sub, and wrote them all into the script. Sometimes they laid it on too thick. As the sub put out to sea, an eager young academy graduate talks about the promising future, how much he loves his fiancée, and how much he loves the glorious worker's paradise and its honorable leaders. Gee, do you think he might be doomed? If Mike Myers had written the script, his name would have been Lieutenant Basil Foreshadow. That would be pronounced "for-SHAD-off". Pronounce the "w" like a "v", because he's Russian. Or Irish.

DVD info from Amazon

  • Commentary by director Kathryn Bigelow and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth

  • Theatrical trailer(s)

  • "The Making of K-19"

  • 3 featurettes: Exploring the Craft, Breaching the Hull, It's in the Details

  • Widescreen anamorphic format, 2.35:1

But this film is so expertly directed that you won't really notice a lot of that.

It is also acted beautifully, excepting the accents, which should have been scrapped right from the beginning. The speech patterns are only annoying for a few minutes, however. After a while you will just accept that they speak like that, and you will get lost in the action. It is exciting and interesting from start to finish.

The film is about duty and honor on an epic scale, and although it was a box office failure, it was a noble failure.

The Critics Vote

  • General USA consensus: two and a half stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 3/4, Entertainment Weekly C.

  • UK consensus: two stars. Daily Mail 4/10, Daily Telegraph 6/10, Independent 5/10, The Guardian 5/10, The Times 4/10, The Express 4/10, The Mirror 8/10, BBC 4/5

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. Voting results: IMDb voters score it 6.9/10, Yahoo voters appraise it at 3.8/5, Guardian voters 6.6/10, and Metacritic users  6.3/10
  • Box Office Mojo. A major disappointment, and a big financial loser. It took $100 million to create the epic appearance of this film, and the marketing costs were estimated at $35 million. The box office maxed out at $35 million, failing to cover even variable costs (the studio gets about 55% of the gross on the average)
  • Exit interviews: Cinema Score. It was a solid B across all demographic groups.


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, C+. Exciting, semi-true submarine yarn.

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