- Nikki Baughan
- 17 October 2018
Gerard Butler is a maverick submarine captain attempting to avert World War III in this lumbering deep-sea actioner
Essentially a two-plus hour advert for the global benefits of all-American jingoism, Hunter Killer is as blunt as it is bland. Director Donovan Marsh (Spud, Avenged) has religiously followed the Michael Bay playbook, combing gung-ho action with caricaturish politics to create a brainless actioner that drips with testosterone but lacks any genuine dramatic spark.
Adapted from the 2012 novel Firing Point, written by former submarine captain George Wallace and Don Keith, the film stars Gerard Butler as naval officer Captain Joe Glass, in charge of a dangerous deep sea mission to rescue the Russian president from his own deranged, megalomaniac defense minister (Michael Gor), and so avert World War III.
Much like other similar, and far superior, films like Crimson Tide and The Hunt For Red October, it's a plot designed to reduce the complexities of international relations to a moral game of cat and mouse — the screenplay keen to assert that the threat comes not from Russia, but from a single rogue minister — with all the obvious beats that entails. Primarily, there's the control room tension between the trigger-happy old guard, as personified by Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Charles Donnegan (a scenery chewing Gary Oldman), who early on asserts that 'this is no time to pussy around', and the more diplomatic approach of fellow officer John Fisk (Common), who is keen to exhaust all possible avenues before pressing the red button.
There's also the Russian pantomime villain, shooting warheads from his lair, who cares not who he kills in his quest for power, in direct contrast to the quartet of American Black Ops soldiers risking their lives behind enemy lines, refusing to leave a man behind. And, under the waves, there's the maverick Captain Glass, willing to break the rules and, even, collude with the supposed enemy (captured Russian Captain Andropov, played with admirable poise and gravitas by Michael Nyqvist in one of his final performances) if it keeps his men, and the world, safe from harm.
And, amidst all that machismo and explosions and toe-curling dialogue — 'Did we just start a war?' one of the officer asks. 'No, but we might have sailed into one,' replies Glass — there is barely a woman to be found. Of the three who have small speaking roles, one is the submarine's communications officer, relaying above-ground messages to the captain; one is an NSA agent (a woefully underused Linda Cardellini) fighting to make herself heard; and one is the President of the United States, who appears in a brief scene to give her approval to plans made by the men in the room. While such gender politics may be somewhat accurate in the context of the US military history, it is an appalling oversight in modern filmmaking.
The best you can say about Hunter Killer is that the sequences aboard the submarine feel authentic and, thanks to some claustrophobic cinematography from Tom Marais, give a sense of what life must be like for the naval officers who risk their lives in far flung waters. As a modern action movie, however, it's lumbering, predictable and sinks without trace.
General release Fri 19 Oct.