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K-19: The Widowmaker
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this serious Cold War-era submarine thriller directed by Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow is loosely based on true events that theoretically could have sparked another world war. Though the movie has very little language, nudity, or drinking, it's a frightening and intense experience. The violence is realistic and makes a definite impact, mostly in the scenes of men entering the radioactive chamber and emerging, burned and sick. But for those with strong stomachs, it's a gripping, powerful, and inspiring experience.
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What's the story?
In 1961, Moscow is eager to set sail with Russian nuclear submarine the K-19, even though it's not quite ready and even though it appears to be a "bad luck" boat. Captain Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson) is replaced by stern, by-the-book Captain Alexei Vostrikov (Harrison Ford), much to the anger of his beloved crew. In the midst of all this tension, men are injured during drills, and nothing appears to be working correctly. Worse, the cooling system on one of the nuclear reactors springs a leak, and there are no radiation suits on board. If the bomb goes off, it could start World War III. It's up to the men to repair it, exposing themselves to massive doses of radiation. But even if they get it fixed, can the wounded submarine make it back home to Mother Russia?
Is it any good?
Stuck with an ill-timed summer release in 2002, Kathryn Bigelow's intense, harrowing K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER received mixed reviews, many of which called the film overly serious and too long. Now that Bigelow has won an Oscar for Best Director, it's time to give the movie a second chance.
Bigelow directs with lean efficiency, moving through the submarine's narrow passages swiftly and cleanly. She focuses on a choice few of the men and manages to capture a cross section of them, representing all their hopes and fears in just a few strokes. The movie does indulge in a few "based on a true story" conventions, and the wobbly Russian accents are sometimes distracting, but these are minor quibbles in a brutally effective, brilliantly constructed dramatic thriller.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's radiation-related imagery. Is it frightening? Is it more or less scary than "bigger" violence/action? Why?
Given that the situation was an accident, are the men on the K-19 heroes? What does it mean to be a hero?
Do you feel the Russians were accurately portrayed? How might the film have been different if the characters were Americans, or if the movie had been released during the time it takes place?
For kids who love thrills
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