A gripping dramatization of actual events, HOSTILE WATERS recreates the October 1986 collision of Russian and American submarines off the coast of Bermuda--an incident the US government maintains never occurred. Based on extensive interviews with survivors, eyewitnesses, and military
officials, this made-for-cable thriller aired on HBO in 1997 and was released to home video in 1998.
Eight days before the Reagan-Gorbachev peace summit in Reykjavik is scheduled to take place, a Russian K-219 nuclear submarine furtively patrolling the western Atlantic detects the presence of an American sub in its wake. Captain Britanov (Rutger Hauer) orders a 360-degree turn to evade the enemy
vessel. In the turbulence caused by the maneuver, the USS Aurora loses its sonar signal and the two vessels collide. The collision causes a gas explosion on the Soviet sub and a fire breaks out which could cause a nuclear meltdown large enough to decimate the entire eastern seaboard of the US. The
beleaguered Soviet sub surfaces in western waters--an unprecedented occurrence that stuns the Aurora skipper (Martin Sheen). Realizing that the Russian sub is in trouble yet suspicious of its every move, the Aurora skipper and his crew are poised to attack--an action that would start an all-out
Britanov submerges his sub with its missile hatches open in order to take on enough water to extinguish the fire. The risky strategy works, but moments later the sub's reactor alarm sounds, signaling imminent nuclear meltdown. The crisis is averted in part by the heroic efforts of a young crewman
(Rob Campbell) who loses his life shutting down the reactors. The rest of the crew is rescued, and the sub sinks without deploying its missiles. Though a hero to his men, Britanov is dismissed from the Soviet Navy. Fearful that public announcement of the incident might impede the peace talks, the
White House suppresses the information.
Treading similar waters as THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990) and CRIMSON TIDE (1995), HOSTILE WATERS is a riveting, tightly scripted submarine adventure. The tension is made more palpable by the real-life implications of the event--though it is unclear to what extent dramatic liberties have been
taken in adapting the story to the screen. An alarming postscript to the film notes that 51 nuclear warheads and 7 nuclear reactors have been lost at sea.
Hauer gives a powerful performance as the courageous yet compassionate Soviet captain. Sheen is equally commendable as the American skipper (his character isn't named because commanders of US nuclear subs are never identified by name), but his job is largely to react--the real action takes place
on the Soviet sub and Hauer is the driving force of the drama. The underseas action is punctuated by cutaways to strategy sessions in Washington and the Kremlin. The military officials on land--Harris Yulin as an American admiral and Max von Sydow as his Kremlin counterpart--are effective. The
production values are strong, particularly the imposing submarine interiors. (Profanity.)
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