The biggest question this movie leaves is how do you waste Max Von Sydow? The man was Ming the Merciless! He was Blofeld! He was Father Merrin, Leland Gaunt and Chief Judge Fargo! This is a man with screen presence and authority, even now. Here, though? He’s just wasted. He has a handful of scenes, a smattering of lines, and less than ten minutes of actual screen time.
Colin (The King’s Speech, Kingsman) Firth is in it as well as Commodore David Russell. Mostly he looks grumpy. Or constipated. In his defence, they don’t give him a great deal to do so maybe he was thinking that he could be off doing a more interesting film. Or he was regretting being in Kingsman 2.
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So let’s talk about the events this film is based on with a short synopsis for those who weren’t around when this happened. During a Russian naval exercise back in 2000, a torpedo exploded inside the submarine “Kursk” and sent it straight down to the bottom. The resulting fire then detonated the rest of the torpedoes, destroying the entire front half of the boat and killing almost all of the crew. A few men (23 in fact) survived in the aft sections for a while, but they also died before being rescued. The Kursk disaster is a tale of Russian secrecy, incompetence and arrogance as they refused offers of aid and attempted to pretend that everything was fine.
Enter 2018’s Kursk (or is it The Command? The title seems to have changed somewhere along the line), starring the aforementioned Colin Firth who provides the Western viewpoint, along with Matthias Schoenaerts (Red Sparrow, The Danish Girl) and Lea Seydoux (Spectre, Robin Hood. No, not that version. Not that one either. The Ridley Scott one everyone forgets about) who show things from the Russian side, covering both what happened on the sub and also to the families left on the mainland as they are kept in the dark as to what is happening while the Russian authorities try to keep a lid on things.
The film deviates from history in that the men in the aft section survive for quite some time longer than they actually did, and the film takes us along with them and their efforts to survive in hopes of rescue. We will leave any discussions about liberties with historical facts alone because, let’s be honest, would a movie about rescuing people who had already died in the first half an hour actually be very interesting?
One aspect must be singled out for praise and that is the cinematography. There are moments when this is a simply gorgeous film. The beginning and end are shown in a truncated format, almost like a picture frame, and some of the shots are so still it’s easy to wonder if you are actually looking at a still piece of art, not a motion picture. The acting is also very solid, the trapped sailors drawing you into their cramped little world and engaging you with their camaraderie.
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The biggest issue with this film is there seems to be a distinct lack of urgency or true tension to most scenes despite the doom which should be looming in every single scene set at sea. Kursk is a curiously flat film in terms of the terrible events within it. This could be, in part, due to the real events which did take pace at a near snail’s pace, the Russian navy slow to wake up to the seriousness of the accident. This, sadly, does not make for particularly riveting watching.
While this is not a bad movie by any stretch, it ends up being a merely pedestrian one that just seems to lack the weight of the events it attempts to depict.
It’s still a beautiful movie, though.