K-19 The Widowmaker

Another of those films that I was in no rush to see (as I am no longer an employee of Paramount Pictures, I can no longer see Paramount releases such as this for free), but I was in Grangeville, Idaho at the time, cleaning out my late grandmother's house, and when you're in Grangeville for more than two days, you are desperate for things to do. And K-19 was the film playing at the Blue Fox, Grangeville's lone cinema.

So there I was, watching K-19. And you know what? It's not bad.

I understand why people might avoid seeing sexagenarian Harrison Ford in that creaky old genre, the submarine picture, when they can have Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man or Vin Diesel as xXx instead. But K-19 should be a strong video rental. Sort of a cross between Apollo 13 and Titanic, this is an intelligent account of the real-life 1961 incident in which a Soviet nuclear submarine, sent out to sea before it was truly seaworthy, encounters a potential meltdown with its nuclear core while edging precariously near the United States.

When telling a true story like this, there's inevitably a certain lack of suspense, since we all know the world didn't blow up in 1961. Yet Bigelow and her cast and crew manage to create a sense of "so how did they keep such a disaster from happening?" and there's enough tension to keep some people (like my sister) on the edges of their seats. Also, the bonus of staying true-to-life is that the film avoids most of the typical twists that an original screenplay might embrace. The truth is, as we know, often stranger than fiction – and a lot more unpredictable.

The big problem with the film lies in its casting of Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson as Soviet sailors speaking with Russian accents. Though they and the rest of the cast limit their brogues to the occasional rolled "r", instead of full-on Boris Badenov impressions, it's still a decision that might distract some viewers from the story. Too bad, because Ford plays one of the more interesting characters of his career, one who actually develops.