Film Review – Hunter Killer
Sometimes, people just want fast food.
That’s precisely the kind of film Hunter Killer (2018) is. Don’t come here looking for deep insights into human nature, folks. This is a standard, straightforward actioner that is only interested in entertaining us for two hours. And you know what? For the most part it succeeds in doing that. Oh, it’s a forgettable film. I’m sure a few weeks (or maybe even days) from now no one is going to be talking about this. The characters are thinly drawn, talk in dialogue that only knows how to exist in clichéd one-liners, and the plot is as bonkers as you can get. But director Donovan Marsh (and writers Arne Schmidt/Jamie Moss) know what kind of material they’re working with and embrace it with full conviction.
Let me lay down the plot, and let’s see how many of you are still around afterward.
Our story takes place in three different locations. The first is onboard a U.S. submarine, in which Captain Joe Glass (Gerard Butler) is ordered to traverse dangerous Russian waters. An undersea attack has taken place, and Glass and his crew are sent to determine if Russia is positioning to strike against America. Meanwhile at the Pentagon, RA John Fisk (Common), the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Charles Donnegan (Gary Oldman), and NSA agent Jayne Norquist (Linda Cardellini) monitor the situation and decide on the appropriate course of action. Along for the ride is a group of four special ops soldiers, led by the tough Captain Forbes (Adam James) sent to penetrate a Russian military base to get an up close and personal look into what is going on.
Things get complicated when Russian President Zakarin (Alexander Diachenko) – visiting the very same base – gets apprehended by a rogue admiral (Michael Gor) in an attempt to induce an all out war between the U.S. and Russia. In hopes of putting that effort to a halt, Captain Forbes and his men are ordered to rescue Zakarin, while Glass is ordered to bring his sub to the base and get them the heck out of there. To help him navigate the mine-infested waters, Glass enlists the help of Russian sub commander Andropov (Michael Nyqvist, in his final film appearance) to guide his way.
Alright, so who’s still with me? Anybody?
Look, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that this convoluted narrative isn’t a pile of cockamamie hullabaloo, because it is. The idea of America sending a single submarine and four soldiers on land to rescue the Russian President is ludicrous. As Oldman’s Donnegan points out (in classic over the top Oldman fashion); if unsuccessful the mission could very well be perceived as America trying to kidnap Zakarin in a hostile act. This whole thing reeks of silliness, but that actually works to its benefit. Everything going on here is so stupid, the dialogue so off the wall dumb, that it actually comes back around and becomes funny. Like when Forbes runs through a hail of gunfire and explosions only to say that he needed the exercise. Or when Glass mentions the best way to recall his crew from shore leave is to visit the local pub. I mean, the writing clearly isn’t taking any of this all that seriously, so why should we?
There are moments of legitimate tension, mostly involving the submarine. Tom Marais’ cinematography captures some nice shots from inside of the command center. Stuck within this one location, Marsh and Marais make use of the characters’ faces as they silently wait to see if they are going to be attacked by an unseen enemy, or when they have to begrudgingly trust that Andropov will lead them through the water mines without slamming into the ocean floor or giving way their position. This isn’t anything new; we’ve seen this approach done before from Das Boot (1981) to Crimson Tide (1995). But it’s a style that has proven to work. It’s been said that the most interesting thing to photograph is the human face, so obviously that applies very well to movies about submarines.
Hunter Killer is a dumb movie, but it’s a fun dumb movie. It’s filled with outdated machismo and plenty of guns, bombs, and missiles to wet the appetite of any military movie fanatic. And if you’ve come this far, dear reader, I suspect you might be somewhat interested in seeing this. The film even has a nice – albeit hackneyed – message about “working together” as its way of being relevant to modern times. I’m not going to defend this from all the criticisms that are going to befall it, which I’m sure there will be. All I can say is: there are plenty of bad movies out there, but there are a few that aren’t a complete waste of time. How’s that for a selling point?