Kursk: The Last Mission, tells the story of the real-life tragedy of the sinking of the Russian submarine ‘The Kursk' in the year 2000. This tense thriller is based on the best selling book ‘A Time to Die: The Untold Story of the Kursk Tragedy' written by Robert Moore.
When the K-141 Kursk was commissioned to be built in 1990, it was a bold statement. In fact, it was the highest achievement of submarine technology by the Soviet Union. It was armed with twenty-four Granit cruise missiles and eight torpedo tubes. The Kursk was capable of destroying a whole U.S Aircraft Carrier group. But, as the missiles and torpedoes could be nuclear-armed, she was capable of much, much more than that.
However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Northern Fleet suffered huge funding cuts. The Kursk along with her crew were drastically neglected. That was until August 2000, when Russia carried out the largest naval exercise in over ten years, presenting a fearful display of power that included over thirty ships and four attack submarines. But, on Saturday 12th August the Kursk suffered two huge explosions. For seven days the world watched as Russia attempted to rescue the crew. They repeatedly turned away assistance, even though their aging rescue equipment repeatedly failed.
It's fair to say, that there have been a lot of great submarine dramas made in the past. Take ‘Das Boot‘ for example, which did an amazing job of displaying the horrors faced by the World War 2 crew members of a German U-Boat. This show was incredible and won a plethora of awards. But included intense and immersive battle scenes that really packed the show with action. Also, as a lengthy TV series ‘Das Boot' had the luxury of leaping from one amazing situation to the next.
But with Kursk, the tragedy is a well-documented piece of history. We all know the horrific ending to this story. So, how does Director, Thomas Vinterberg approach this? Well, in a respectful but deeply personal way. He places most of the focus on the personal experiences of the few men who could have been saved. And the issues faced by their close family. Now, this does succeed in allowing the audience to have some connection with the drama. However, it leaves you feeling that most of this information is stretching the truth too far. This overly melodramatic approach pulls the focus unnecessarily away from a lot of questions that are left ignored. On top of this, he switches the frame aspect of the cameras repeatedly which is just another unnecessary distraction.
Now, the Director may have wrecked this movie but, the screenplay by Robert Rodat is very good. Rodat has won an Academy Award for the Screenplay of Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. Another element that does work very well for Kursk is quality casting. Colin Firth was a big draw for me after watching the trailer. Yes, he is very good in this film but hugely underused, so don't be misguided by the trailer. Léa Seydoux is outstanding as the distraught wife of a Submarine Captain Mikhail Averin. But also seems to be totally underused. All of the focus seems to be drawn to Captain Mikhail Averin, resulting in him pretty much becoming the lead character. Don't get me wrong, Matthias Schoenaerts does a fantastic job playing the part. But a little more detail on the other characters could have helped significantly.
Personally, I had a great interest in seeing a big-screen interpretation of such a standout piece of military history. On paper, it has a huge amount going for it. Yet, the direction is poorly placed from start to finish and the result is disappointing. Overall Kursk: The Last Mission is an interesting movie, but could have been significantly better.