There’s an inherent cinematic tension to a confined space like a train (Snowpiercer, Murder on the Orient Express), or, in the case of Kathryn Bigelow’s K-19: The Widowmaker, a submarine. K-19 tells the story of a nuclear submarine that undergoes a catastrophic failure to its nuclear reactor, and Kathryn Bigelow takes full advantage of the cinematic tension to create a claustrophobic film that takes a darkly depressing turn into the fatalistic. The images of young sailors, emerging from the irradiated containment compartment of the submarine, already suffering from severe radiation poisoning, are harrowing, to say the least.
Though K-19 is ultimately a good film for what it’s trying to be, it’s easy to see why this was such a boondoggle. This is not an action film – despite being marketed as an action film, despite starring one of the biggest action stars in the world in Harrison Ford (Liam Neeson was not yet an action star in 2002), this is a dark drama at best, claustrophobic, cynical, and depressing.
Some of the accent stuff in this movie is iffy at best. Asking Harrison Ford to do a Russian accent – maybe not the best move?
In many ways, this feels very much like the precursor to Bigelow’s later career, to films like The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty – the kind of dark adult drama that Bigelow is now known for, but at the time was not her modus operandi.