The film follows the 2000 K-141 Kursk submarine disaster and the governmental negligence that followed. As the sailors fight for survival, their families desperately battle political obstacles and impossible odds to save them.
In the year 2000, a Russian submarine sank during a naval exercise after an explosion occurred within the submarine, leading to the death of 118 sailors. 23 of those men survived the initial impact and clung on to life as their oxygen ran out, and ‘Kursk: The Last Mission’ (based on Robert Moore’s fictionalised novel imagining what may have occurred on the submarine after the event) revisits this tragic event to tell a story of ordinary men fighting to survive as their government’s inaction left them to die. In many respects, this film could act as a companion piece to HBO’s ‘Chernobyl’, the excellent miniseries from earlier this year which also explores the failings of the Russian state through a monumental tragedy.
Leading the international ensemble is Matthias Schoenaerts as Mikhail Averin, the submarine’s captain, and we follow the attempts of him and the remaining crew members to stay alive as hope starts to drain away from them. At the same time, the narrative explores the response from the Russian state, whose slow reactions and unwillingness to accept help from other countries may not have caused the men’s deaths directly, but certainly served to heighten tensions across the country. There’s an interesting angle here, but I don’t think it was explored in as much depth as it could have been (not helped by the forensic exploration carried out in ‘Chernobyl’). In the supporting cast, Lea Seydoux plays Averin’s wife, who brushes up against various authority figures either unable or unwilling to help, and Colin Firth has a glorified cameo as a British commodore who leads the UK’s rescue attempt for the submarine. The film is directed by the Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg, and it’s a curiously conventional film from a man responsible for ‘Festen’ and ‘The Hunt’. It’s a well made film with good performances, but I felt that it lacked an edge to elevate it to something greater.
I also felt it curious (more for the novel than the film) to take a tragedy and extend the narrative out for dramatic purposes, creating a scenario where the men lived for longer than they did, when the reality is that they were dead long before the first rescue attempt was made. The points about state failure still stand, but this seems a rather crass way to emphasise the point, if that was indeed the intention. All the same, the film is worth watching for anyone with an interest in finding out more about this tragic event.
Directed By: Thomas Vinterberg
Starring: Matthias Schoenaerts, Lea Seydoux, Michael Nyqvist, Max von Sydow, August Diehl, Peter Simonischek, Martin Brambach and Colin Firth