Hunter Killer is a submarine thriller that plays out like a CGI video game. It moves at a breakneck pace, never slowing down long enough to establish real tension. The plot, based on the novel “Firing Point” by Don Keith and George Wallace, had promise. International intrigue, cat and mouse military tactics, an all-star cast, the elements were on the page for a good film. If only Hunter Killer had taken more time to digest the material. Poor execution unfortunately sinks the ship.
A U.S. submarine goes missing after shadowing a Russian submarine in the arctic. At the Pentagon, Rear Admiral John Fisk (Common) dispatches a hunter killer attack submarine, the U.S.S. Arkansas, to investigate the disappearance. Gerard Butler stars as Commander Joe Glass, the new captain of the Arkansas, in his first deployment with the crew. He isn’t a product of the naval academy, but a lifer who rose through the ranks by talent and grit.
NSA Analyst Jayne Norquist (Linda Cardellini) brings alarming news to Admiral Fisk. Russian President Zakarin (Alexander Diachenko) has not responded to the president’s call about the missing American sub. Intelligence has Zakarin meeting senior Russian officials at their submarine fleet headquarters in Polyarny. Admiral Charles Donnegan (Gary Oldman), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recommends the U.S. raise military readiness to DEFCON 2. As the situation escalates, Fisk sends a clandestine commando unit to find the Russian President. Commander Glass must navigate a treacherous conspiracy to prevent all out war.
Hunter Killer has a lot going on. Multiple storylines run concurrently. The goal being to rapidly build tension to an action packed climax. The problem is that there’s never any doubt of the outcome. The submarine bounces from one close shave to another. The commandos are almost detected, but slink away. The pentagon officers have tense meetings, then sit around looking worried. After a while, the air is let out of the balloon. South African Director Donovan Marsh has too many irons in the fire. Hunter Killer fades because of the plot onslaught. Less is more would have worked wonders.
A talented cast led by Gerard Butler is marginalized by the shotgun pacing. Gary Oldman, who would win an Oscar for The Darkest Hour after this film, is relegated to screaming fits. Common, a fine dramatic actor, is comically stone-faced throughout. Swedish star Michael Nyqvist, in his penultimate performance before passing away, grumbles a few lines as a russian captain. Gerard Butler and Toby Stephens, who leads the commandos, are the only players giving time to show any emotional range. This is a colossal waste of a good ensemble. Donovan Marsh needed to shift focus from the visual effects and give his cast room to breathe. The best submarine films, The Hunt for Red October, Das Boot, were military stories but performance driven. Hunter Killer should have emulated the style of these earlier classics.
The video game metaphor aptly describes Hunter Killer; a series of missions intercut with bullets, CGI torpedoes, and cardboard characters. I can’t imagine what Gary Oldman saw in his character. The script must have been more detailed, or they just handed him a wad of cash for a few days work. From Summit Entertainment, Hunter Killer is a forgettable entry in the submarine genre.