Harrison Ford, K-19: The Widowmaker
Credit: K-19: The Widowmaker: George Kraychyk

In 1961, the K-19 — the Soviet Union’s first nuclear ballistic submarine — suffered a reactor malfunction during an early sea trial in the North Atlantic. A meltdown not only would have been catastrophic, it might have provoked a hostile response from the U.S.

Bigelow (”Strange Days”) began developing a movie based on the incident in 1996, a few years after the near-fiasco became public. Ford — reaping a reported $25 million — committed to the role of the sub’s captain, intrigued by the prospect of playing opposite Neeson (as his executive officer) and by the script’s look at Cold War tensions from the Russian perspective. ”It’s the politics of us versus them, but it doesn’t take sides,” Ford says. ”It would have been dramatically unsuccessful if we slipped from time to time into an American point of view about Russia.”

Nonetheless, as shooting began last year, reports surfaced that some K-19 vets were irate over a screenplay depicting them as drunken incompetents. Bigelow — who interviewed survivors during script development and has changed names and events for the sake of drama — suspects a bad translation, but also suggests the film always had the potential to rankle. ”A lot of Russians feel they have been misportrayed by Hollywood, and there was natural suspicion of our intentions by the military,” she says. ”You can’t change decades of an ingrained mind-set in one meeting.”

Bigelow shot on a set built to scale, with props scavenged from an old diesel sub that had been a floating restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. And yes, you will hear Indiana Jones speaking Russian-accented English. ”It wasn’t difficult,” says Ford. ”It was difficult for the powers that be to understand the importance of it at first.”

K-19: The Widowmaker
  • Movie
  • 139 minutes