K-19: The Widowmaker [2002]

Based on an incident that was officially suppressed for 28 years, K-19: The Widowmaker is a fine addition to the "sub-genre" of submarine thrillers. The first major American film about Russian cold war heroes, it re-creates the nightmare endured in 1961 by the crew of the Soviet nuclear submarine K-19, when an exposed reactor core nearly resulted in a nuclear catastrophe. Several crewmen died, and K-19's captain (played by Harrison Ford) had to assert his command when near-mutiny favored his executive officer (Liam Neeson). This escalating tension gives the film its potent dramatic thrust, and both Ford and Neeson deliver intense performances while director Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark, Strange Days) ably controls a sub full of seething testosterone. It's not as viscerally thrilling as the classic Das Boot or U-571, and some K-19 survivors protested the inclusion of inauthentic drinking scenes, but the movie benefits from grand-scale production values, seamless computer graphics, and a compelling real-life twist. --Jeff Shannon

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