Movies about the U.S. military tend to fall into two categories: triumphant stories focusing on hardship that is overcome, and tales that focus more on the evils of war and that which comes after. I say “tend to” because every once in a while we come across a movie like “Hunter Killer,” which is directed by Donovan Marsh and based on the novel “Firing Point.” Starring Gerard Butler, “Hunter Killer” doesn’t fit into either of the above two categories; not remotely. No “Hunter Killer” is a tale without glory and without weight. It is a slog certainly, but it doesn’t show war to be one.
Butler stars as first time submarine captain, Joe Glass. You wouldn’t know that it’s his first time captaining a sub though, because he does absolutely everything right in order to prevent World War III from breaking out when the Russian Defense Minister, Admiral Durov (Michael Gor), kidnaps Russian President Zakarin (Alexander Diachenko), in order to stage a coup. Glass doesn’t know that’s what’s happening at first, nor does the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (Gary Oldman) or Rear Admiral John Fisk (Common), who order Glass and his new sub to waters near Russia. Instead, they are out there looking for answers about what sunk another U.S. sub in the area and finding a sunk Russian one as well. The captain of that sub, Andropov (Michael Nyqvist), is still alive and rescued by Glass’s crew.
“Hunter Killer” plays out like a rejected Jack Ryan script. It shifts from Washington D.C. where the politicians and operatives (who also include Linda Cardellini’s NSA agent, Jayne Norquist) argue and dither and debate, to Glass’s sub, to the Russian base where Andropov is being held, to a small unit of U.S. soldiers on the ground at the same base. Due to these perspective shifts, the audience is able to put together the puzzle while each individual group in the film wonders about what exactly is taking place.
However, there is no sense of magnitude about any of this. The end result of the operations could indeed be a nuclear holocaust, but not for a single moment does it feel as though that might actually come to pass (and it is laughable when Oldman starts yelling about it all). This is a sense made worse as Glass has this preternatural ability to suss everything out and do what’s right.
Carter MacIntyre plays Glass’s XO, Brian Edwards, a distinctly unenviable role. Whether Glass is obeying or ignoring Washington’s orders or doing anything else at all, it is MacIntyre’s Edwards who stands there and takes the opposite point of view. This is done so we understand just how far outside the norm Glass operates. With how often it happens, however, it is also more than a little silly. One could easily imagine a scene on the cutting room floor where Edwards yells at Glass for putting one spoon of sugar into his coffee instead of two.
While it might not be classified as a straight action movie, “Hunter Killer” does feature a number of action sequences, none of which will successfully raise the blood pressure of those in the audience. The most tense sequence features Glass’s sub navigating a mined channel, but as with the rest of the movie, this portion of the film goes on far too long and becomes a parody before it ends.
This is not even a movie that is saved, or merely buoyed, by its computer effects. These regularly disappoint, offering up images that only look somewhat better than the plane crash in “Air Force One.” A couple of green screen shots are particularly poor.
Beyond that, characters in “Hunter Killer” are not deep and sometimes rather ridiculous. Action in “Hunter Killer” is dull. The logic behind what is going on is rarely discussed and even more rarely coherent.
Sadly, this is a dull slog of a film that in no way justifies it two hour running time. It is a war movie that has no message, pro or con, about the military and the people who make decisions that affect us all. It grows ever more foolish as it progresses, taking what might be a promising scenario and utterly squandering it. “Hunter Killer” is a movie best avoided.
photo credit: Lionsgate