Hunter Killer Review
There may be a lot of people who think Gerard Butler in a submarine deep under sea is probably the best place for him. That’s exactly where we find him in Hunter Killer, although for anyone who isn’t his biggest fan, the bad news is there is also a crew and several cameras on board too. The actor said recently this would be good enough to revive the submarine film, and although it’s not exactly Das Boot, it isn’t dead in the water by the end either.
The film was initially owned by Relativity Media who subsequently went bust in 2015. After some legal wrangling Millennium Films took over the project and completed production during the summer of 2016. That may explain the revival of the Cold War plot that sees American and Russian military forces facing off in the Arctic Ocean. This was before Trump had come to power and the Russian investigation was even an embryo, the film now arriving at a time when relations are frosty to say the least.
We delve underneath the ice of the Arctic Ocean at the start of Hunter Killer where two submarines are blown to pieces in quick succession. First of all it’s the Russians, quickly followed by the Americans, who were quietly tracking the Soviet vessel. Back home Admiral Charles Donnegan (Gary Oldman) wants answers and his second in command, Rear Admiral John Fisk (Common) calls on Joe Glass (Gerard Butler) to take charge of the USS Arkansas, who heads into Russian waters to find out what happened.
Quite what the Americans were doing in Russia in the first place is anyone’s question. It’s one of many never answered, but then again, the entire premise of the film breaks the limits of reality. Putin hopefully has this on his Netflix watch list while Trump probably believes this is a documentary. Believability aside, Hunter Killer is actually pretty good fun and Hollywood newbie director Donovan Marsh shows real potential.
Marsh shows us Glass slipping into Russia, while Fisk teams up with NSA analyst Jayne Norquist (Linda Cardellini) to send a team of Navy SEALS into a Soviet naval base to get some info. Unexpectedly they see the Russian Minister of Defence start a coup that puts President Zakarin under arrest. His plan is to engage the American Navy to start WWIII (again, why?) and it’s down to Glass to save the President and the world in the process.
Butler may not be the first man you’d pick for the job, but he’s the only one available for now and he’ll have to do. He’s developed a reputation for his tendency to overact but he is surprisingly restrained here. It may seem like the type of film filled with angry men posturing and barking at each other as the pressure mounts - and it does have it moments - but in the main Butler offers a calm and authoritative presence and avoids mangling the script.
Submarines aren’t the sexiest of objects to watch and Donovan Marsh keeps the action simple and effective. There are plenty of torpedos and rockets being launched under and above the water but he ensures we always know what is going on and where everyone is in the moment. Marsh does a great job of building the tension around some of the chase sequences and military standoffs and the cramped architecture inside the sub looks and feels real. It’s testament to the director that even at two hours the film doesn’t outstay it welcome.
Hunter Killer isn't without its faults, with poor CGI, clunky dialogue, by-the-numbers performances (Common is as stiff as ever and Gary Oldman is on auto-pilot) and eye-rolling contrivances sporadically rearing their head. Maybe it’s because expectations are so low going into the film that it’s a pleasant surprise there are no moments that force you to spend the rest of the time devising a plan on how to get your money back. Whether or not it will emerge to make waves at the box office remains to be seen.
Hunter Killer opens nationwide on 19th October.