When a US submarine goes missing under the Arctic, Commander Joe Glass (Gerard Butler) is ordered to lead the USS Arkansas to the last known location. Their mission is to locate the missing sub, rescue any survivors and investigate the cause of the disappearance. The only problem is, the incident may have got the US entangled in some serious Russian political turmoil. And in order to de-escalate the situation, the Arkansas and her crew will have to go where no American vessel has gone before.
Now it sounds like Gerard Butler has made another movie in which his very Scottishy sounding, uber patriotic American hero saves the day. Well you'd be kind of right for thinking that. But Butler actually tones down the gung-ho, OTT shit this time round. Both he and director Donovan Marsh spent a few days aboard the USS Houston in order to get a feel for life on a submarine. The result of which is a more authentic performance from Butler, he's more reserved than we're used to seeing him. He actually plays a very convincing sub captain. One facing the possibility that any action he takes could result in World War III.
Thanks to this high-stakes situation, the scenes that play out beneath the surface are not only the most enjoyable and exciting, they're also jarringly tense. The crew have an incredibly dangerous job to do, even without the threat of World War III. A threat made almost palpable thanks to some solid performances by those playing the crew of the Arkansas (plus a few guests) and some fairly decent special effects.
The problems with Hunter Killer it seems, reside on dry land. Everything that goes on within the Pentagon serves little or no purpose. Gary Oldman simply shouts a lot - almost like he was doing an Al Pacino impression the whole time. His character seems to be in a continual state of losing his shit, not very reassuring considering he's in charge of one of the largest military forces in the world. And Linda Cardellini's soul purpose seems to be to remind us that she works for the NSA. Only Common does anything of real importance, and he's still not given enough to do. Even the villains are nothing more than generic Russian bad guys, although the movie doesn't go so far as to portray all Russians that way.
Then there's the land operation involving the Seal team. This is the part that says "from the guys who brought you the Fast & Furious movies". Toby Stephens is good as the salty team leader (look, nautical) and the team have some entertaining banter. But apart from that, it's nothing but cliched, OTT action we'd expect from Fast and Furious. Once on the ground every move they make seems either foolish or unrealistic...sometimes even both. And it's for this reason that this part of the story doesn't fit with the rest of the movie. It's as if the part involving the Seal team was written and directed by someone else, someone with a very different approach and style.
Overall Hunter Killer is a fairly decent action movie, one that thankfully doesn't go over the top on the whole patriotism thing. I mean, imagine if Michael Bay got a hold of this! On second thoughts...don't do that. Rather than spreading the story across four narratives - one of which we could pretty much do without - I think the movie would have benefitted from focusing more on the goings on onboard the Arkansas. But some good performances, tense underwater scenes and fun action make for a fairly entertaining watch.
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