Warning: This review alludes to aspects of the plot.
Millennium Media, pedlars of mid-budget thrills aimed like a sub-launched nuclear missile at less discerning international markets, have once again come up trumps with this geopolitical thriller; made with the best crew the Bulgarian Lev can buy. If you like your movies written for those who tastes are thought to be about thirty years behind modern audiences, with dialogue that assumes English is the audience’s second language, so can’t resist the temptation to tell not show, just in case the gist of scenes is lost in translation, Hunter Killer will feel bracing, like a swim in the Adriatic.
Gerard Butler (who else?) is John Glass, a blue collar submarine captain who worked his way up from the bottom of the ocean to become the US Navy’s go-to man in an international submariner crisis. He’s called into action when it appears an American sub has been sunk by Russians. Upon arrival, in parallel with Toby Stephens’ band of grunts on the surface, investigating strange goings on at a coastal base in Russian territory, uncovers a plot to overthrow the Russian President (Putin reminagined as benign, adverse to gangsterism and peace-loving for the benefit of Eastern European audiences), and start a war.
The hows and whys of the plot aren’t particularly important. What keeps Hunter Killer, er, afloat, is escalation and a propensity to pile on the jeopardy once the establishing pillars of a creaky setup are firmly in place. The movie may not have style or scale (Millennium use stock footage to bulk out the standoff between warring fleets) but it makes the best of the limited resources at its disposal to provide a series of intense and outlandish setpieces. If you’re forgiving enough to look past some conspicuous CGI and the dead eyes of the supporting cast, including Gary Oldman who receives top billing despite an extended straw man cameo, the film grips in its second act, sometimes threatening to generate excitement.
The final thought must be for Gerard Butler who, thanks to countless movies like this, is now established as a b-movie mainstay; a budget leading man for austere producers. Did he imagine, when he got The 300 gig, that it would end up like this? Schlock hunters won’t grumble, but I for one believe Gerard’s better than this and deserves the chance to prove it. Gerard, never mind a torpedo, fire your agent.