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Movie Review

Hostile Waters

MPAA Rating: PG for adult situations and violence

Reviewed by: Brett Willis
STAFF WRITER

Better than Average
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teen to Adult
Genre:
Military Drama/Thriller
Length:
1 hr. 32 min.
Year of Release:
1997
USA Release:
_____
Box art for “Hostile Waters”
Featuring: Rutger Hauer, Martin Sheen, Max von Sydow, Richard Graham, Rob Campbell
Director: David Drury
Producer: Tony Garnett
Distributor: _____

If this HBO-produced film were fiction, it would be just an average submarine story in the tradition of “The Hunt for Red October”. But it gets our attention by claiming to be a reconstruction of actual events—an October 1986 accident on a Yankee-class Russian nuclear sub, and the subsequent efforts of Captain Britanov (Rutger Hauer) to contain the damage on his ship.

When a Los Angeles-class American sub detects and shadows a Russian sub (the K-219) off Bermuda, Britanov orders a “crazy Ivan” move to lose the tail, and for some reason the K-219 doesn’t detect that in circling back it’s going directly under the American sub—until they collide. The scrape seems minor at first; but one of the K-219’s missile hatches has been ripped off and some fuel lines and electrical connections have been damaged, leading to a fire in the missile bay. If the fire gets too hot, the missiles (which are pre-targeted on American East Coast cities) could self-launch. And the fire could spread to the reactor room and cause a meltdown. AND the American commander (Martin Sheen) has to decide whether the wounded K-219 is a threat—whether Britanov is launching an attack, or is just trying to fix his damaged vessel. If Britanov makes a false move, his ship will be sunk. AND since Reagan and Gorbachev are about to meet to discuss the dangers of playing “submarine tag,” the politicians on both sides want to pretend that this crisis isn’t happening. AND no matter what Britanov does, the Russian High Command is going to cut him loose and make him take the fall (not to be facetious, but remember the line from “A Bug’s Life”: “First rule of leadership—everything is your fault.”).

Negative content: There are 1 or 2 dozen profanities scattered in the dialogue. There is some death, and of course a lot of tension in the storyline. And, the film takes many liberties with the book on which it is based—so if the book is true, then many details of the film are fictionalized. A nuclear watchdog group I checked with says that there are two conflicting theories on the reason for the accident on the K-219—a collision with an American sub, or an inherent defect in the missile tube. The book follows one theory, the film the other.

Positive content: The sailors do their jobs, not hesitating or showing fear in the face of danger. Without giving an exact number, the closing credits of “Hostile Waters” imply that there have been many nuclear sub accidents over the years. The watchdog group places the count at 4 to 7 Russian and 2 American subs sunk, and several other incidents of fires, radiation leaks etc. (As of July 2000). If all this is true, we have a fresh reason to thank God that we’ve never had a fallout cloud drift in over our East Coast and have never been drawn into an accidental nuclear war.


Viewer Comments
Shortly after I wrote this review, another Russian nuclear sub (the Kursk) was lost. The Russians broadly hinted that it collided with a foreign sub, while other nations preferred the theory that it may have been field-testing a new weapon which exploded onboard (thus the Russians’ resistance to international rescue attempts). “The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Brett Willis (Reviewer), age 50