When an American submarine, shadowing a Russian sub witness their target suffer an explosion and sink, they are themselves torpedoed by an unknown assailant before they can report home. The USS Arkansas, with newly appointed Captain Joe Glass (Gerard Butler) in command is sent to investigate amidst escalating Russian military deployments and activity at Polyarny marine base. A black ops team is deployed to monitor the base and when the Navy Seals witness what appears to be a coup by the Russian Defence Minister Durov (Mikhail Gorevoy), NSA Analyst (Linda Cardellini) and a Navy Rear Admiral Fisk (Common) hatch an audacious plan to rescue the Russian President from his own naval base and prevent a war.
It’ll come as no surprise that Gerard Butler here plays something of a maverick with balls of steel. Such is his testicular fortitude that he almost matches the chutzpah of the marketing wonk who shamelessly pushed this as ‘starring’ Gary Oldman when the newly-minted Oscar winner has little more than a cameo. What may come as more of a surprise is that “Hunter Killer” is, despite its straight-to-DVD styling, actually a pretty good geopolitical action thriller, albeit something of a Diet Coke Clancy.
There’s little subtlety or slow burn drama on offer, in favour of action and incident as the story barrels forward. There are nods to, amongst others, “Crimson Tide”, “The Sum Of All Fears” and especially “The Hunt For Red October” in this derivative action thriller but it’s performed so sincerely that it kind of works on its own terms. The special effects work, for the most part, is pretty good, especially the submarine combat scenes and the surface action is at least good enough to make you uncertain as to when you’re watching CGI or actual stock footage of the US Navy.
Butler reigns in his usual bombastic style and while the film would have benefitted with a little more time to develop the crew dynamics aboard the submarine, it’s a minor quibble. The real revelation, though, is Toby Stephens. No longer the effete Alan B’Stard knock-off of “Die Another Day”, where others may ‘scrub up well’, Stephens grizzles up superbly as the take-no-shit taciturn Navy SEAL leader Bill Beaman. Michael Nyqvist, in one of his final roles before his untimely death, brings a great deal of nobility and drama to the submarine’s bridge scenes despite having only a handful of lines.
Yes, it may have lifted its plot from a dozen other political thrillers, yes it got every one of its Russian bad guys from a central casting catalogue and yes, it’s just one Linda Cardellini and one USS Arkansas communications officer (Sarah Middleton) away from being a total sausage-fest but if it’s tense submarine drama you’re on the hunt for this October, “Hunter Killer” will hit the target.