Film review: ‘Hunter Killer’, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

With the Russians apparently the designated bad guys once again, Hollywood producers can dust off the Cold War action movie ideas and deliver the sort of films US Republicans probably spoiled their trousers over in the 90s. One such flag-waver is the preposterous, occasionally exciting and very unsubtly-named sub-marine drama Hunter Killer which stars Gerard Butler and Gary Oldman.

Butler plays maverick submarine captain Joe Glass who’s assigned to investigate an American sub’s disappearance under the Arctic ice. Glass discovers that the sub incident is linked to a Russian military coup which also involves the kidnapping of a very unPutin-like Russian President (Alexander Diachenko). Glass, along with a Rear Admiral John Fisk (rapper Common) and an NSA analyst Jayne Norquist (Linda Cardellini) hatches a plan to rescue the Russian leader and hopefully avert a Third World War. The action alternates between Glass’s underwater adventure and the ground mission in which four hirsute special forces operatives try to snatch the Russian Pres.

The submarine movie is a pretty limited and cliched genre that mainly consists of tense crews arguing with a sweaty captain as torpedoes approach. There’s plenty of that going on here as Butler’s sub skirmishes with Russian subs and warships. Still, director Donovan Marsh draws a few white-knuckle scenes and some fairly punishing military action from this familiar scenario.

This is essentially a cartoonish, boys’ toys, military fetish wank-fest, a style of film to which Butler seems well-suited. As the flinty Captain Glass he’s like a grumpier Captain Kirk (minus most of the charisma) and as a result, alternates between likeably avuncular and annoying. Gary Oldman clearly developed a taste for scenery-chomping in his recent turn as Winston Churchill and here he gnaws on the woodwork as stodgy old Admiral who just won’t let that loose cannon submarine commander do whatever he wants. Freaks and Geeks alumnus Linda Cardellini also makes a welcome appearance as the savvy yet oddly compassionate NSA agent Norquist. Rapper Common is surprisingly good as the morally conflicted Rear Admiral trying to control a situation spiralling out of control.

The film is mostly retrograde in its depiction of Russia/ America relations although not wishing to go too old school with the Russian meanies, it depicts a type of détente in which Butler calls upon his Captain Nemo-like Russian counterpart (Michael Nyqvist) for advice. This actually gives the film a sliver of unexpected warmth.

This is the sort of film footy clubs send their players to for a pre-season gee-up but in its goofy, lumbering, politically dubious way it’s (sort of) fun.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: War drama.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Donovan Marsh.

Release date: 1st Nov 2018.

Running time: 121 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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