In August 2000 the K-141 Kursk submarine, part of Russia’s northern navy fleet, sank after an explosion occurred during Russia’s first naval exercise since the end of the Soviet Union. What should have been a simple rescue mission turned into a political dumpster fire when the Russian government’s pride refused international help, despite the country lacking the proper equipment to save the men themselves.

Recounting both the harrowing experience of the men trapped on the submarine and the political fall out that took place, Thomas Vinterberg’s latest film Kursk examines the various stages at which the tragedy could have been avoided. Our guide into the chaos that occurred on the ship is naval officer Mikhail (Matthias Schoenaerts), a loving father and husband who is expecting his second child with wife Tanya (Léa Seydoux). As Mikhail tries to keep his remaining crew alive underwater, Tanya grows increasing frustrated with the way government officials, including Boris Nikolayevich Yelstin (Max von Sydow), are keeping the community left in the dark regarding the status of the crew and whether Russia will accept the help offered by others including British Navy commander David Russell (Colin Firth).

Setting up the family like bond of Mikhail’s crew early, Vinterberg provides added weight to many heart-pounding moments in the film, including a stunning sequence where Mikhail and a crew member risk their lives in the frigid waters in search of canisters that will provide the men with air. Vinterberg wisely strips the score from this sequence so that the sound of water, air bubbles and mumbled noises of the men trying to communicate under water is all we hear.

Effectively drawing out the tension underwater, the film never loses sight of the emotional drama occurring in the town. Presenting how easily political pride can make a bad situation worse, and devastate a community in the process, Kursk is a captivating and heartbreaking look at how a government let its people down.

Screens:
Thursday, September 13, 9:30 PM, Winter Garden Theatre

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