“Hunter Killer” (2018)
Running Time: 121 minutes
Written by: Arne Schmidt and Jamie Moss
Directed by: Donovan Marsh
Featuring: Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman, Michael Nyqvist, Common, Linda Cardellini and Toby Stephens
Captain Joe Glass: “I would like to take one last breath before we go under. You never know what it’s gonna be like when you come up.”
This month sees the release on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K of a throwback movie of sorts in “Hunter Killer” (2018) a film that is straight out of the Cold War era in that it deals with relations between the US and Russia by cashing in on the relations as they are now. What is interesting is that this movie was made so long ago that when it was produced the US/Russia relations were actually very cordial, it is only in the past two years things have become very icy. What I find very odd about this movie (to be fair there is more than one odd thing) is that based on a variety of elements, it should not be very good at all, but I found myself enjoying it quite a bit even if much of it is reductive, trope laden and stars Gerard Butler who has not been in a good movie in a number of years and whose last movie was the pitiful “Geostorm” (2017) which has to mark a real low point for him. For an actor that started off so strong he has taken the path of least resistance to end up as a kind of action also ran in Hollywood.
One of the main reasons this movie is watchable at all is for me down to the split narrative, it covers the story from three distinct geographic areas, they are firstly a kind of war room in the US, secondly under the ice aboard a submarine and lastly in Russia itself where the President of Russia is facing a coup and ends up being aided by some US special forces soldiers, who have been roped in the role as saviors. What this means is that any weakness in the story of which there is quite a bit is covered up with the constant switching from place to place, it has to be said that the best part of all this is the section in Russia with the US special forces led by Toby Stephens who is surprisingly extremely charismatic and fun in his role. In fact I would go so far as to say Stephens ends up stealing the entire movie by acting the part well and knowing exactly what kind of movie he is in, which is a key in being a character actor as well as someone who has the kind of experience he now has after appearing in so many productions over the past three decades. I could actually watch an entire movie with Stephens character set up as a hero, although that too has been done to death.
“Hunter Killer” more or less is based around U.S. submarine, the USS Tampa Bay, that vanishes while shadowing a Russian Akula-class submarine in the Arctic Circle. Rear Admiral John Fisk sends a Virginia-class submarine, the USS Arkansas, under the command of newly promoted and unorthodox Commander Joe Glass to investigate. You really do not need to be explained the rest of the plot as like many other similar themed movies it just heaps on conincidence as well as far fetched political objectives, but needless to say it does borrow heavily from other under water set movies.
This movie is written by Arne Schmidt and Jamie Moss and directed by Donovan Marsh who collectively have very little experience in not only making movies but definitely making movies of this size and scope, it is a wonder with all the embedded clichés that this one comes off as good as it does. To be fair because of the tightness of the running time as well as the three main locations and the quality (mostly) of the cast this movie succeeds despite itself, which is rarely the case especially in modern cinema. Someone who can plan a scene as well as follow a narrative through to the end even if at times it stretches credulity in each successive scene has directed “Hunter Killer” so it does actually become a fun watch.
This is a movie loaded with actors who all seem miscast here, it is a shame that “Hunter Killer” ends up being the first movie that Gary Oldman appears in after winning an Oscar for best actor, here he shows his class by going off the deep end and chewing the scenery like a pro, he is really fun to watch. As I have already said I think that Toby Stephens absolutely steals the show while Gerard Butler is anything but his normal self playing his part as subdued as possible which is a nice change from the parts he has been playing or should I say playing them over the past decade, I hope this indicates a change in direction as in good roles he is not difficult to actually like. Actors who are making careers out of exactly these types of parts and movies such as Common and Linda Cardellini who are fine if fairly ordinary fill out the rest of the cast. This is also possibly the last time the great Michael Nyqvist will appear onscreen as he dies a few years ago now, he was a great Scandinavian actor who raised the level of movie every time he appeared, here he is no different.
“Hunter Killer” is a movie from another time, one that heralded such movies as “The Hunt for Red October” (1990), it has to be said, however it is a cheaper knock off with actors who are inferior to that great movie which has not aged a day. It is a true shame that movies like this can be made with a trope filled plot as well as a formulaic narrative that covers just about every submarine movie ever made. It is also telling when geographic areas are limited as this speaks to the budget as well as the faith that the producers had in this movie. However this movie is saved by the Russian section which is actually very good, it has tension as well as action that is lacking in the rest of the movie which may explain why this is the largest portion of the movie and the most inventive from a narrative point.
It’s a difficult question to answer in would I recommend this movie to viewers? Well you did not miss anything if you did not see in cinemas, but if you have a chance to see on DVD or Blu-ray then I would jump at it, or if you can find on a streaming platform then its worth a watch for a good piece of action as well as some tense moments that brighten up an otherwise dull action movie that has been written and directed by the numbers.