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‘Hunter Killer’ Review: Gerard Butler Commands Sub-Par Naval Thriller That Can Be Dumb Fun

[Watch] 'Hunter Killer' Review: Gerard Butler

Submarine movies are a genre unto themselves in Hollywood, which has been churning them out for as long as anyone can remember. There are some pretty good ones like Das Boot, The Hunt for Red October, Crimson Tide, Run Silent Run Deep and my favorite, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. 

And then there is Hunter Killer. Now don’t get me wrong, this is dumb fun, as far as it goes, and perfect for non-discerning audiences looking for an old-fashioned mindless Cold War-type thriller that makes perfect sense until you start to think about it. Fortunately, I haven’t thought about it much since seeing it earlier this week. As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), it is certainly not on the level of the aforementioned classics in the genre, but it means well, has an ideally cast Gerard Butler at his stoic best in a role he could do in his sleep and is competently directed by Donovan Marsh, whose previous biggest cinematic claim to fame is something called Spud, and its sequel Spud 2: The Madness Continues. He knows what audiences expect from a movie called Hunter Killer (a reference to the sub) and delivers the action as required, even ratcheting up the required tension in a few scenes. Plotwise, however, it is all kind of ludicrous, sinking with cliché after cliché in these Russia-vs.-America kind of tales.

In short, Butler — who’s always watchable and winning even in duds like Geostorm — plays Captain Joe Glass, who is called into action to check out the mystery of an altercation between an American sub and Russian sub that have gone missing. Soon he discovers the Russian vessel was a victim of its own sabotage from within, an act tied to a plot to pull off a coup and kidnap the Russian president, among others. At the urging of another officer John Fisk (Common), and joined by a crack team of Navy SEALs, Glass takes on the daunting task of trying to rescue the Russian leader, get him onboard the American, travel perilously through enemy waters to safety, all the while foiling the coup and preventing World War III. Simple.


At least at it seems that way in this kind of movie, the equivalent of a beach read but not very credible. This is one of an increasing number of movies in which the characters can seem to tune into television screens wherever they are to track the whereabouts and condition of whoever they are after. It is set in a world that is seemingly always on camera and easily accessible. How did anyone ever pull off one of these missions in the olden days without this kind of modern

Of course there are major complications in how to do all this, with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Gary Oldman) angrily urging the female President (Caroline Goodall) to start an all-out attack, as Marsh and screenwriters Arnie Schmidt and Jamie Moss’ adaptation of the novel Firing Point keep switching from the D.C. Situation Room to the Russians plotting the coup to the stern and very serious talk in the American sub, which manages to take the Russian sub’s captain (Michael Nyqvist) and subordinates aboard at one point. In a world where our current president is seen cozying up to Russian leaders, this crazy-quilt plot might not be that far-fetched after all.

Thanks to Butler, this is all watchable, but you have to wonder what as fine an actor as Oldman is doing this movie as his first since winning the Best Actor Oscar in Darkest Hour this year. He basically gets to look concerned and raise his voice occasionally, and for that he gets above-the-title billing and, presumably, a nice paycheck. Common is an unexpected casting here, and he does what he can with the role. Linda Cardellini is OK but also largely wasted as an NSA official. Sad to say, this is one of the final roles for Nyqvist,  the fine actor who died last year at only 56.

There are nine people credited simply as producers (not to mention several more with the word in their title), and the film drifted from Millennium to Relativity and finally to Lionsgate’s Summit Premiere, which is releasing it today.

Do you plan to see Hunter Killer? Let us know what you think.


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