Hostile Waters Reviews



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 doesnít detect that in circling back itís going directly under the American sub--until they collide. The scrape seems minor at first; but one of the K-219ís 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 isnít 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 Bugís 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 weíve never had a fallout cloud drift in over our East Coast and have never been drawn into an accidental nuclear war.

Year of Release -- 1997

Reviewed by: Brett Willis



Filmed at Pinewood StudiosPinewood Studios, London, and Studio Babelsberg, Potsdam, Germany, by World Prods., in association with InVision Prods. Ltd., UFA Filmproduktion, UFA Babelsberg and Flach Film Paris, for HBO NYC Prods. and the BBC. Executive producers, David M. Thompson, Konstantin Thoeren, William Cran, Stephanie Tepper; producer, Tony Garnett; director, David Drury; writer, Troy Kennedy Martin; based on research by Cran, Peter Huchthausen, Tom Mangold; Taut, tense submarine thriller delivers a compelling package: The script subtly --- too subtly, sometimes --- limns the brave men who man nuclear subs, but it's the crisis that's the real star here.
It's 1986, days before the Ronald Reagan-Mikhail Gorbachev Iceland summit, and a Soviet nuclear sub silently swims through the western Atlantic, 500 miles off the coast of Bermuda.

Meanwhile, the American Aurora, also a very large, very dangerous submarine, spots it. The Soviet captain, Igor Britanov (Rutger Hauer), orders an evasive move, which clouds the sonar that each sub "sees" with, and disaster strikes: The subs collide.

The Aurora stands down, listening through radar to the Soviet situation like a cat. The Soviets are in deep trouble, with ruptured fuel lines that have compromised the integrity of the nukes on board.

Resolution of the situation plays up the tension inherent in a submarine, the game of chess being played on the surface between Washington bureaucrats and military factions, and the fact that Britanov merely wants to get his men out of there alive, and not nuke the Eastern seaboard.

ScripterScripter Troy Kennedy Martin has crafted a tight story based on research by Bill Cran, Tom Mangold and Peter Huchthausen, a former U.S. naval attache based in Moscow. Huchthausen --- who originally heard of the incident --- and Cran had meticulously interviewed the Russian principals involved, and Mangold grilled the American officials (the Navy won't comment on the record about the incident) , thus grounding the telepictelepic in a chilling reality.

Martin's script, though, fails to compel on a human level, and the characters are simplistically drawn, which, for this genre, is not necessarily a bad thing. Hauer's perfperf, though, relays the pressure of being in command of a submarine loaded with nuclear warheads.

Director David Drury keeps the pace snappy, ably conveying the terror of a crisis in a claustrophobic atmosphere.

Tech credits are tops, with Jon Bunker's production design and Anne Hoffman's costumes authentically conveying the difference between the haves (the pristine U.S. Navy sub and mariners) and have-nots (the dirty, scrappy Soviets).