Kursk: The Last Mission (2018) **

July 9th, 2019
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Thomas Vinterberg; Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Lea Seydoux, Artemy Spiridonov, Colin Firth, Peter Simonischek, Max von Sydow; France/Belgium/Luxembourg 2018, 117 min.

Based on the true story of the Kursk submarine tragedy of 2000 in which 188 men lost their lives, Kursk: The Last Mission is a rather surprising choice for Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt), whose adaption of Robert Moore’s factual story A Time to die, written for the screen by Robert Rodat (Private Ryan), has all the hallmarks of a Luc Besson inspired would-be Hollywood production. This narrative of the nuclear-powered submarine disaster which befell the Kursk in August 2000 in the Barents Straight, is short on truth and rather overbearing of masculinity and clichés.

In this mega European disaster feature we meet the hero Mikhail Kalekov (Schoenaerts) on home ground: pregnant wife Tanya (Seudoux) and son Mischa (Spiridonov) are the lively family who play around, not knowing that disaster lurks around the corner. The crew of the Kursk is introduced as a good natured bunch – only interested in getting the alcohol for a team members wedding, which Mikhail organises, paying part of the bill with his watch. On August 12th disaster strikes: two explosions (caused by a faulty weld) occur, leaving only 23 of the 115 men crew alive. Stonewalling by the Russian authorities – they even invented a collision with a Nato submarine as a course for the accident – meant that the survivors died a slow death, since the help of British and Norwegian rescue teams were postponed, until it was too late.      Unfortunately, Firth as British naval attaché David Russell has more in common with a Victorian counterpart, and Russian Admiral Grudzinsky (Simonischek) ”is on the outlook for an enemy”, but does not now his identity. President Putin gets away “with being on holiday for most of the time” – even though he clearly had a hand in the avoidable tragedy, but particularly in the incident with the wife of one of the victims.

DoP Anthony Dod Mantle tries his best to save the heavy handed direction, his images are halfway between apocalyptic and eerie-romantic. Particularly the oxygen-cartridge retrieval scene is a masterpiece – the photographer is the only production crew member who can hold his head high. Overall this feature is mostly interested in simple male moral boosting: songs more at home on the terraces of a football stadium replace any analysis of this technology disaster, which was the result of scandalous political motives. AS

Kursk: The Last Mission in Cinemas and on Digital HD 12 July 2019


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