DVD Review – Kursk: The Last Mission

Kursk: The Last Mission or, as it’s known in some territories with the less spoileristic title Kursk, is the newest film from former founder of Dogme 95 Thomas Vinterberg. The US title is the ridiculously generic The Command. It’s based on the real-life 2000 Kursk submarine disaster, and the film relies on the book A Time to Die: The Untold Story of the Kursk Tragedy as the basis for the screenplay by Robert Rodat, who is most widely known for writing Saving Private Ryan. This film has some of the same problems as Saving Private Ryan in its final moments.

Basically, some explosions occur in this Russian submarine dubbed the Kursk, and the surviving sailors are stuck in the metal tomb as their oxygen evaporates away. This all occurs in what would be a routine naval exercise. The Russian authorities are reluctant to seek outside help, while they are clearly out of their depth to proceed with a rescue mission of any merit.

Matthias Schoenaerts stars as Russian Navy captain-lieutenant Mikhail Averin, and the rest of the cast are solid European actors you will recognise playing either the sailors or above-sea navel or government officials, including August Diehl, Martin Brambach, Peter Simonischek and even Max von Sydow. Léa Seydoux  plays Averin’s wife Tanya, and Colin Firth plays the British Commodore David Russell, who is ready to aid with the rescue whenever he gets the go-ahead from the Russians.

The film is perfectly fine, and obviously the drama works, it’s about as dramatic of a story as you can get. The depiction of useless government bureaucracy in the name of national secrets when you have these brave sailors slowing dying is pretty effective. However, the film’s biggest issue is it’s completely false and created for dramatic license: the main focus of these sailors trying to survive never happened. The reluctance to get needed help is true, but their fight is untrue, and if any anything it is a disservice to the sailors (but the truth isn’t as dramatic, I guess.) Luc Besson, who produced the film, wanted to focus more on the non-existent rescue story than the real story of politics behind what happened. I would suspect Vinterberg signed on to make the real story on the basis of films he has made before, like The Hunt, and there was a conflict of vision here.

The other chickenshit aspect of the film is that Vladimir Putin is completely absent, although he was the president of Russia when this disaster happened. The producers reportedly didn’t want to offend the Russian President, and feared a hack like the one that Sony got around the time of the North Korea-set satire The Interview, although it’s highly disputed it was the North Koreans behind the hack. Putin was originally set to have a sizeable presence in the last act of the film. Although the film in the end is fairly questionable in its integrity, the performances from the cast are all solid, and the suspense is nail-biting at times. The ending, as in Saving Private Ryan, is far too sentimental for what shouldn’t be a sentimental film at all.

The DVD has two short making-ofs, both of which are around the five-minute mark.

★★★

Ian Schultz

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