‘The Command’ Review: A Real-Life Submarine Tragedy Gets the Big Screen Treatment

Those familiar with the fate of the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk, which sank in the Barents Sea during a 2000 naval exercise, will already know how Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Command” ends. Perhaps that’s one reason the film, based on a 2002 book by the journalist Robert Moore about the incident, prioritizes emotion over narrative — focusing on the tension, solidarity, and desperation of the vessel’s crew, even as it skims past story developments that may help us better understand what, exactly, is happening.

As the officer in charge, and a career Navy man in love with the sea, Matthias Schoenaerts brings a melancholy physicality to his part: He moves with the grace of a hero, but has the sad eyes of a doomed romantic. Something similar could be said for Colin Firth, playing the British commodore whose offers of help are rejected by the Russian authorities.

The Kursk incident was an early humiliation for Vladimir Putin’s government, showcasing officials’ stasis and carelessness, and revealing that the country’s poverty extended to its military. (An early scene shows the Kursk’s crew selling their watches to help pay for champagne at a colleague’s wedding.) “The Command” duly stokes our outrage, showing us the agonizing back-and-forth between Western powers eager to help and Russian officials too proud, and perhaps too paralyzed, to accept any assistance. But it works best when it remains fixed on the individuals at the heart of this tragedy. The fine cast keeps us engaged, even if the film sometimes loses the narrative thread.

The Command

Rated PG-13 for jovial drunkenness and terrible things happening underwater. Running time: 1 hour 57 minutes.

The Command

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