The Command, from Danish director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt), is very different than anything he has done before. Although Vinterberg has always been political, this film — telling the story of the 2000 Kursk submarine disaster — goes beyond that and begins to feel like overt propaganda.
The Kursk disaster is certainly heartbreaking, and as a result, makes for a very compelling and cinematic story. However, this movie often brings to question the legitimacy of what you see on screen. The film is based on Robert Moore’s book A Time to Die, and Moore claims to have gotten “secret admission” to the command base. However, being that the base ultimately lost communication with the Kursk, it is hard to believe that some of the melodrama at the core of the movie is real.
Additionally, there are quite a few subplots in the film that don’t feel entirely necessary. For example, we see the wives of the Navy men as they try to deal with the bureaucracy of the Russian Navy. This could have been an interesting storyline with legitimate political commentary, but it never goes anywhere, instead feeling like dead weight in an already too long movie.
One of the issues with the film’s inability to have compelling subplots is that the supporting characters aren’t developed well enough. The female characters aren’t given much personality outside of “grieving wife/mother/sister”, and that’s a shame because there are some extremely talented actors and actresses in the cast, such as Léa Seydoux (Skyfall), who plays the protagonist’s wife.
Another subplot that is extremely frustrating is one involving a British officer (portrayed by Colin Firth) who is offering assistance to the Russian Navy in rescuing the men. Again, this storyline feels unnecessary because it doesn’t result to much. The implication is that this story is supposed to show the egocentric nature of the Russian military, but that message is never fully explored.
That said, the movie does a solid job of memorializing the soldiers who lost their lives in the disaster. Even though a majority of audiences who see the film won’t be of Russian nationality, the sacrifices that these people have made in the name of serving will still be admirable. You will also be left endlessly frustrated at the Russian Navy for allowing this to happen.
Matthias Schoenaerts portrays the de facto leader of the sailors, and he does an excellent job of infusing humanity into the role. The character isn’t particularly complex, so it didn’t require much range, but he did a good job of doing what the role required. He also has great chemistry with the actors who play his crew, including Magnus Millang and Chris Pascal.
In terms of execution, the movie was mostly solid. Vinterberg is a competent and skilled director by all means, so the film is shot in a way to maximize suspense. There were a few decisions made that seemed questionable, such as seemingly random aspect ratio changes towards the beginning and end of the movie, but these are not overly distracting. For the most part, the cinematography and production design are excellent, making you feel as if you were actually on the submarine.
Although The Command is far more mainstream than anything Vinterberg has done up until this point, it is still a mostly well-shot and interesting film. Granted, the story and talent show that this had the potential to be more than it is, but for a straightforward war movie, it’s pretty solid.
The Command hits theaters and VOD on June 21.