Film Review: Kursk: The Last Mission


Director Thomas Vinterberg’s Kursk: The Last Mission is a foreboding drama, which offers necessary tension. The film is an engaging watch.

In 2000, the Russian Navy conducts an exercise. When something goes wrong, the Kursk submarine erupts in flames. The sailors fight for survival, hoping a rescue is coming…

Directed by Vinterberg, Kursk: The Last Mission is Robert Rodat and Robert Moore, based on Moore’s book. A sense of foreboding is present from very early on in the film. Those unaware of the facts of the disaster are unlikely to mistake Kursk: The Last Mission for a “against all odds” survival tale. Given that most viewers will be aware of the outcome, Vinterberg’s film then focuses on the situation itself; the men in peril, the family at home, and the decisions that led to such an outcome. 

The narrative moves at a good pace, fitting all of these pieces together in an engaging manner. Vinterberg really emphasises the frustration of the situation. The submarine scenes are tense, the sense of hopelessness increases as the clock ticks by. Mikhail is a good focal point; in charge in an unpredictable situation, trying to keep his men active in the most unenviable of situations. Likewise, the stress and anguish of the families is palpable, particularly in the face of the response from officials. Those trying to do something (Petrenko and Russell) facing the futility of what they are up against is conveyed very effectively. 

Kursk: The Last Mission could work as an accompany piece to the television series Chernobyl. The same themes are present; outdated infrastructure, the oppressive nature of rule, the passing of blame, inability to challenge hierarchy even by those most knowledgeable and equipped. The film is an indictment of regime which disavows criticism. That is not to say that the disaster could not have happened elsewhere, yet there is something particular about the cause and effect in this case. 

Matthias Schoenarts delivers a capable performance. Colin Firth is as reliable as ever, and Max von Sydow is also good. Although it seems like a minor role at first, Léa Seydoux is convincing as Tanya. The ratio change is an interesting touch, but effectively conveys a shift. There are some fantastic shots, Vinterberg and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle offer some beautifully framed imagery. 

Although it does not pack the same punch as The Hunt, Thomas Vinterberg delivers an engaging picture with Kursk: The Last Mission. The film exhibits structural failings without neglecting the human cost. 

Kursk: The Last Mission is out in UK cinemas and on Digital HD from 12th July 2019.

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