There are many reasons to applaud K-19: The Widowmaker, not the least of which is that it is such a hellish bummer. Here's the scenario (and it's based on a true story): In 1961, with the Cold War glacially raging, the Soviet nuclear submarine K-19 puts out to sea. Untested, undermanned and undersupplied, it is rushed into action by the brutal logic of the arms race. Its mission is one of straightforward intimidation: to fire a dummy warhead and then loiter menacingly off the eastern seaboard, within striking distance of New York and Washington.
The claim Philip Kindred Dick, California nutcase and sci-fi seer, holds on our imagination is a particular one. Dick's signature as a writer is a sort of pre-epileptic hum or aura, an intimation of fast-approaching crisis. Something dislocates, something accelerates, a wire touches another wire and we know -- quiveringly -- that we have to fit ourselves for a lasting ontological derangement. Quality control was never Dick's problem (capable, in his speed-gobbling prime, of writing up to 30 short stories a year, he barely had time to look over his shoulder at the exhaust cloud of output in his wake). But it is ours, and nearly 50 years after it was written, "The Minority Report," Dick's short story, makes for very shaky reading.
Hollywood made some healthy contributions to the "rogue cop" genre in
the 1990s. One was Internal Affairs, in which Richard Gere, as a cop gone
bad, was corrupt, porkily sexual, running rackets, and siring children like a
Greek god. Gere's character had no conscience; his ethical sense was entirely
displaced onto the person of the grim, obsessed Internal Affairs officer who was
investigating him. The screenplay for Internal Affairs was written by
Henry Bean, who then expanded his brief with Deep Cover, the story of a
narcotics agent (played by Laurence Fishburne) who is taken over, werewolf-like,
by his undercover identity. Split men, men swallowed by their own shadows: Bean
I could have walked out of Enigma. Not in
anger -- not in that
state of congested indignation that sometimes forces cinemagoers to their feet,
huffing and puffing and clawing for their coats in the darkness -- but through
lack of concern. Which surprised me, because almost any film set in England in
1943 has, for me, an automatic power and pull: wartime England, my God, I am
(aren't you?) rank with false nostalgia for it -- with implanted memories of the
brave cities and the murmuring countryside, the voices of leaders on the radio,
the turned-up trousers and the coal smoke, the pluck, the pep, the upper lip!
The vicious drought that struck California in the
mid-1970s killed lawns, turned golf courses to dust, and created the modern
skateboarder. A team of street riders from "Dogtown" -- south Santa Monica -- began
hitting Los Angeles's dried-out swimming pools in search of new curves and walls.
And these desecrated bowls, filled suddenly with the combustive roar of
urethane-coated wheels, became crucibles of transformation. Water gave way to
fire, to a new hardness and dryness, a scorching fluency. Limits were abolished
daily, unguessed-at achievements became routine. For skating -- and for America's
youth -- the future had arrived.