Hunter Killer is nostalgic. It’s nostalgic for some of the great submarine drama films like Das Boot and Hunt for Red October and Grey Lady Down (one of the first movies I can remember seeing in the theater; it gave me nightmares). It’s nostalgic for a time when men were men and were at one with their careers. And, it’s nostalgic for the time when people thought Hillary Clinton would win the presidency. That’s a lot of nostalgia for just $5!
The movie stars Gerard Butler (no relation) as Joe Glass, a tough-as-nails, salt-of-the-earth, macho man first-time submarine captain — but not so heartless that he would put an arrow through a mama caribou out for a walk with all her little cariboos. Joe takes the helm of a submarine en route to the icy waters of eastern Russia (or was it western Russia?), where he is to investigate the mysterious disappearance of another American submarine. He explains to the crew that he is one of them, a career man, worked his way up from swabbing the deck and cleaning tubes and that he has saltwater in his veins. This is a central point of the movie.
Glass’ counterpart on the Russian sub is also a career man who has dedicated his life to his underwater duties. This is clearly explained to us at least one point in the film, possibly four. The Russian commander is decidedly shorter than Glass.
Meanwhile, back on terra firma, we have a team of rugged Navy SEAL-like characters, led by Toby Stevens, kicking ass and kicking more ass. They are going to get dropped into the s-h-you know what and things are going to get hot. There is some great commando action for sure. Stevens, it turns out, has also dedicated his life to the cause.
Back in Washington, we have Gary Oldham, who inexplicably shares top billing with Butler here. This is not inexplicable because Oldham doesn’t have Butler’s acting chops; it is inexplicable because his character is so poorly written. Oldham spends most of his time on screen pretty mad, possibly because he got cast in such a lousy role. If you told me he was playing the role because he got drunk and lost a bet with Gerard Butler, that would make more sense than whatever actually happened to get him to waste his talent here.
Oldham is joined by, among others, Jayne Norquist (Linda Cardellini) in the military intelligence corner of the film. Although Norquist is not in uniform, she does have a higher level of security clearance than her uniformed counterparts in the room. But despite her elevated egghead standing, she has not dedicated her life to the cause, arriving at the crisis center war room straight from one of her kid’s school events. The movie does not give you the sense that double duty as a mother is a mark in her favor.
Finally, in the fourth corner of the movie, we have some action taking place just off the icy waters of western Russia (or was it eastern Russia?) involving the Russian President (Alexander Diachenko) and assorted military personnel. This is pretty interesting and not terribly generous to the Russians, perhaps explaining why the film distributor is having trouble releasing it in Russia and the Ukraine. That’s probably a pretty interesting story in and of itself. Google it and let me know.
Despite my objections to some of the cliches, the wooden story lines, and the pervasiveness of retrograde mentality, the story is compelling and the throwback action is generally fantastic. If you long for a movie with some great scenery and lots of military tech on display, I’m guessing you will find a lot to like here.
As for the thematic elements, there is a guest appearance by a would-be Hillary Clinton-type presidential character (Caroline Gooodall), suggesting that production started prior to the 2016 election! I suppose there is something interesting to be said about a movie that longs for days when men’s identities were at one with their careers would tacitly imagine a Clinton victory in 2016. I’m just not sure what that is.
Overall, above the $5 bar for a fun story, good action in many “theaters,” a couple of compelling characters, and pretty awesome visuals along the way. It won’t join the canon of awesome submarine thrillers, but the location scouting was magnificent, and this one should be enjoyed on a very large screen somewhere.