Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Cast: Colin Firth, Matthias Schonaerts, Lea Seydoux, Max von Sydow
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Kursk: The Last Mission is the striking story of a Russian submarine trapped on the bottom of the ocean for four days. Struggling against dwindling oxygen, rising waters, and terrible fear, the crew become the focus of an international incident, as Russian leaders decline help from countries better equipped to save their sailors. Undeniably Chernobyl-esque in nature, Kursk is an incredible true story, suppressed and distorted by international grandstanding, in which politics and grudges play a role in an already incredibly fragile and time-sensitive situation.
Boasting a fantastic cast led by Matthias Schonaerts (Rust & Bone, The Danish Girl) and Lea Seydoux (Spectre), Kursk’s French-Belgian production serves it well, allowing some excellent new talent a chance to shine among established award-winners. Colin Firth and Max von Sydow may be the most recognisable faces in the film, but European talent in the form of Joel Basman and Magnus Milang stun with their portrayals of soldiers under unimaginable pressure.
With a script from Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan) based on Robert Moore’s book, Kursk manages to avoid any artificial excitement you might expect from a submarine-set thriller and allows the tension and relationships to grow quietly as the story progresses. Building emotional attachment from the first minute, Thomas Vinterberg’s film manages to tell a simple, hard-to-watch story about a man separated from his family without contrivance or becoming overdramatic. Quite simply, Kursk is subtle, organic, and twice as powerful as a result.
Kursk’s understated nature also allows the production design to flourish. Dark, gritty and often underwater for extended periods, Kursk was partially shot in a real submarine and manages to portray a crew losing their minds without ever overstating or understating the strange conditions they were under. Having to multi-task an escape effort with juggling an oxygen supply and a failing water pump, it becomes clear very quickly that this is a uniquely dangerous spot to be in.
Kursk is smart, well-written and fantastically made – showcasing some top-tier performances from European actors, as well as shining a light on a tragic series of events that highlight how global politics can affect even the simplest of situations.