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Loved and trusted by his men, respected as the most experienced submarine captain in the Soviet Navy, Captain Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson) is removed from command of K-19 when the Soviet leadership decides he isn't readying their flagship sub fast enough for her maiden voyage. In his place, the naval brass summons Captain Alexei Vostrokov (Harrison Ford), a strictly "mission-oriented" officer with an iron will, who takes K-19 out to sea precisely on schedule on June 18, 1961.

Polenin, due to his practical knowledge of the sub, remains on board as Vostrikov's executive officer, and the two clash repeatedly. Once under way, Vostrikov tests K-19 and the crew to the utmost degree, conducting drill after drill, driving the submarine and the men to the edge by plunging toward maximum diving depth. At last the mentally, emotionally and physically taxing sea trials end with the successful launch of a test missile.

Then a fateful order comes from Moscow: K-19 is to head westward to take up its Cold War patrol station a mere 400 km off the U.S. coastline. Unaware that the submarine has been crippled, steadfast Captain Vostrikov obeys the Motherland, taking the K-19 and his men to what could be their last voyage. For on July 4, 1961, with the patrol mission scarcely under way, a disaster of global magnitude strikes: the atomic submarine's reactor cooling system springs a leak, and the reactor core slowly heats up. If it reaches 1,000 degrees, the reactor could melt threatening the crews lives. Worse still, if the reactor erupts, it could set off missile warheads, and a nuclear explosion so close to a NATO base it could trigger World War III.


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