Matthias Schoenaerts in The Command (2019).
Matthias Schoenaerts in The Command (2019).

The Command (2019) Review

It’s extremely rare when a film tells its story perfectly, but The Command certainly falls into this category. The casting is superb. The acting is pitch perfect. And, while obviously not a blockbuster, the film manages to deliver thrilling and breathtaking visuals. Most of all, this excellent film captures the struggle of human existence in this moving and quiet masterpiece.

Plot Summary

Based on Robert Moore’s book “A Time to Die”, The Command recounts the Russian K-141 Kursk submarine disaster in 2000. In that event, the nuclear-powered Kursk was loaded with a dummy torpedo which exploded, sinking the vessel. While most of the 118 personnel were killed almost immediately in the explosion and events following, roughly two dozen men were able to find refuge in a small compartment with limited air and resources. This telling of events follows these sailors’ struggles to survive while their families fight government obfuscation and bureaucracy to save them.

Matthias Schoenaerts and Léa Seydoux in The Command (2019).
Matthias Schoenaerts and Léa Seydoux in The Command (2019).


I didn’t follow the Kursk disaster in 2000 when it happened, so watching The Command might as well have been fiction to me. However, the presentation is no less moving. Now that I’ve done some light research on the events, I can see where liberties were taken and where other aspects are horrifically true. When I finished the film, I had to take some time to regain control of my emotions. Reading about the event now, I feel a deep gratitude that this film was made, because it honors the men of the Kursk and their families.

It’s subtle choices like these that are the most striking and elevate the film into something more than a disaster movie.

Interestingly, the film is less about individual characters and more about connecting the dots that make up this incredible event. So, while characters work proactively toward their own goals, there aren’t necessarily specific heroes and villains to focus on. That’s not to say that there aren’t main characters, like Mikhail Averin (Matthias Schoenaerts), who risks drowning to secure more oxygen for the trapped sailors. There’s also his wife, Tanya Averin (Léa Seydoux), fighting the Russian naval bureaucrats who refuse to give answers to families. And there’s Commodore David Russell (Colin Firth) from the Royal Navy who marshals forces to lend aid to the Russians. But even minor supporting characters make an impact, like Oleg Lebedev (Magnus Millang), who rallies the sailors’ spirits when they’re at their lowest points, and Admiral Vyacheslav Grudzinsky (Peter Simonischek), the Russian who defies his government to reach out for help. All of these parts – large and small – come together seamlessly to weave a fabric that is at once both terrifying and heartwarming.

As someone who isn’t very familiar with most of the cast, I found the casting choices to be excellent. I had no expectations on who would survive or who would make heroic sacrifices. In fact, it was nice to see the actors I recognized play relatively small roles; it left the story as the star instead of the cast.

Furthermore, the filmmakers chose wisely not to linger too long on any actor. Instead, the camera mostly captures the humanity in the events rather than emotive closeups of individuals. Even during one of the most heart-breaking moments in the film, the de facto hero is filmed from behind while the men around him are the center of attention. When the camera finally captures his face, he doesn’t stand apart from the crew – he’s one of them. It’s subtle choices like these that are the most striking and elevate the film into something more than a disaster movie.

What’s also impressive about this film is the amount of value the filmmakers got out of its presentation. At no time does it ever feel like a small film or a movie constrained by budget. I’ve seen Hollywood films that looked far worse. The shots of the Russian fleet stand up to scrutiny, the underwater action sequences are exciting, and the varied sets all look believable. The Command fills in all the gaps moviegoers take for granted to present an experience that feels dense and bigger than anyone would expect.

Colin Firth in The Command (2019).
Colin Firth in The Command (2019).

Final Thoughts

I can’t say enough good things about this movie. The Command delivers on everything a moviegoer could ask of it. Most of all, it wonderfully illustrates a truth: The powerful evil forces that control people’s lives won’t stop those people from trying to survive, even if it’s futile. And that indomitable human spirit in the face of insurmountable odds is what makes this film so uplifting. But the very real and unstoppable coordinated forces of evil displayed in this film are also what make this movie so frustrating and sad. The Command exists at the point where hope and reality crash into one another, and the resulting precipitate is a catharsis that’s rarely elicited by movies today.

Also Consider
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French Exit (2020) Review