DIRECTOR: Thomas Vinterberg
I, like many people, remember this as it was happening at the time back in 2000. The Kursk, a state of the art Russian nuclear submarine sinking in the Black Sea, was left on the sea bed just long enough for whole crew to die, seemingly because the Russian navy refused help from the Royal Navy along with the Norwegians, who had offered to help.
In fact, all the crew would perish within eleven hours, so the delay did not really change that outcone. This film would seemingly present different version in which the remaining sailors would last for a week, which did seem a little far fetched considering the conditions in the ship.
Their reluctance made sense as navies rerely want to allow enemies, even cold ones, access to their technology. But this stubbornness would ultimately prove futile.
In the end, they capitulated because their rescue sub wad not up to the task but by then, it was too late.
And that was pretty much all I knew about this incident from the news coverage at the time and nearly twenty years later, I had pretty much forgotten about it.
That was until I found this film on Netflix, though the image and title used looked more like a documentary or a cheap film. More on that later…
Well, it isn’t.
The production values are very good, beginning with a slightly curious choice to start the film with a 1.66:1 ratio. This is applied in the opening and closing scenes in which the family life, culminating in a wedding (feeling a slight Deer Hunter vibe here), as we meet the crew of essentially working class joes.
And they are presented really well, nice decent family men, who just happen to work on a nuclear sub, which is parked in the local harbour.
Then, as predicted, the format opens up to 2.39:1 as the Kursk takes to sea. The ratio choices were nice, small and intimate for the family life and wide, epic for the naval mission.
But this mission was obviously going to take a nasty turn. They went out to test a new nuclear torpedo, which is over heating before they even take to sea.
The moment that the torpedoes explodes is handled perfectly. To the point that I was shocked and trust me when I say that I have seen my fair share of disaster movies.
The build up was classic but the moment just comes out of nowhere and feels very natural and grizzly, without being gratuitous.
This in turn causes the entire compliment of conventional torpedoes to explode as well, which takes out half of the ship and crew, leaving the few survivors to take refuge in the stern, which is flooding.
They manage to get the pumps working and have bought themselves time to be rescued. But as I have already said, they did not stand chance, even if the Russian pride would have finished the survivors off resulting in one of the worse maritime disasters in recent history.
The rest of the story focuses around the sailors families fighting a futile battle to get the Russian navy to either save their men of let the Royal Navy do it. Of course this did not work out either.
And the remainder is Colin Firth’s Royal Navy commander, who is trying his best to be allowed to help these men. Which ultimately he can, but it is too late.
So, the film looks great, the effects are very good; the performances are fine and the story is well adapted. The only real problem is that it is a story that many will already be aware of and in its efforts not to be melodramatic and turn this in a hyped up disaster movie, it lacks a certain dramatic edge.
It almost feels like a big budget TV movie, but it is not. It did have a limited release in cinemas but has quickly been consigned to Netflix and probably other streaming services in the future.
It is also one of those films, co-produced by Luc Besson by the way, along with a whopping 22 others, which has loads of different titles. I believe that Kursk is the proper title, but on UK’s Netflix and DVD it is called Kursk: The Last Mission. This is the reason why I thought it was a documentary at first and its US title seems to be The Command.
What’s that about?
So, for those of you who like real life dramas, this is one to check out.