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K-19: The Widowmaker

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My first Netflix movie in months.  I'm certainly not getting my money's worth out of this.

I don't remember hearing anything about this when it was in the theatre.  Maybe a commercial or two, but that's it.

This is supposed to be based on real events.  As usual with a movie treatment, I spent a lot of time wondering how accurate it was.  Even if it wasn't precisely accurate in the details, how well it portrayed the characters.

The story is set in 1961, aboard the Soviet Union's first nuclear submarine.  It starts out with a simulation (I had guessed that pretty quickly in the scene) that had to be cut short because of poor craftmanship.  Following the party line style of the time, the Navy leaders ignore the realities of putting such a complex new system in the field and demand that the boat put to sea in two weeks, as scheduled.

The captain, Liam Neeson, tries to reason with them, tries to explain how unready the boat is.  His punishment is that they demote him to executive officer and bring in someone, Harrison Ford, who they know will toe the line.

They portray other instances of Soviet life.  For example, when the new captain is touring the boat he comes across the reactor officer, drunk on duty.  The XO tries to explain that he's the best reactor officer in the fleet, but the captain has him arrested.   They're assigned a replacement who is just out of school.  The captain again toes the party line and declares that he wouldn't have been assigned to the post by HQ if he weren't qualified.

Before setting sail, the ship's medical officer is killed in a traffic accident, run over on the dock right next to the boat.  A dozen men are gathered around the body, and Ford has one stand watch until the ambulance arrives and tells the others to get back to work.  No words of comfort for the crew.  A great way to alienate the crew.

In some ways, this movie played a little like Crimson Tide.  Ford pushes the crew and skirts the limits of the capability of the sub.  His motive is to harden the crew, so that they'll know they can perform in action.  Neeson is a bit more in tune with how the crew is responding.

Sometimes Ford just demands hard work, like running drills endlessly.  Other times, he appears to act foolishly.  For example, on the sub's maiden voyage he takes it below maximum operational depth and nearly to crush depth.  Then he performs an emergency surface, trusting outdated reports that the ice above them isn't thick enough to cause damage.  (These incidents are likely very simplified dramatizations, but possibly properly indicative of his reckless attitude.)  In both cases, pushing a new design awfully hard.  He doesn't appear to be quite as calculating as Gene Hackman's character was in that position.

The sub successfully test fires a missile.  Then, it's mission is extended from a short shakedown cruise to an actual deployment.  Again, this feels like events were conflated together.  Was the maiden voyage really used for all those tasks, the shakedown, the missile test and the deployment?

Then the coolant line to one of the reactors springs a leak.

If this had been a proper shakedown cruise then they would have had support available to assist in addressing the situation.  Instead, they're on their own, on deployement, and are far from help.

Once again, we learn of the realities of living and working under the Soviet system.   If I remember the dialogue correctly, there were backups designed for the system that weren't installed, yet.  In the US, the ship would never be allowed to fire up the rectors without those backups being in place.  In the Soviet Union, not only do they put out to sea, but they're deployed with a single-point-of-failure nuclear reactor.

From there, the drama plays out.  Should they ask the nearby American destroyer for help?  Should they scuttle the sub?  Will the crew follow the captain, or will they mutinee?  And what will the old captain do?

I watched the extras, though not the diector's commentary.  One thing that just amazed me is that they took a rusting '60s era Soviet sub and made it seaworthy to act as a set for the ocean scenes.  That's amazing enough.  What's astounding is that it was a smaller class of sub.  Therefore, they cut it up and added about 30% to its length in order to match the original.  And made it seaworthy.  :-o  Holy shit!  I wonder how much that cost, and if they ever made it back.

On my brother's Total Movie Value Scale, Rental.  Moderately okay drama.  But it just didn't live up to the Gold Standard of Das Boot.  And, I wonder how close to reality it is.

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