In “Hunter Killer,” Joe Glass plays a first-time US submarine captain caught in the middle of an escalating conflict with Russia, and he’s going to fix the problem his way, dammit! Naturally, his second in command, the executive officer, abhors every decision Captain Joe makes and protests loudly — until, in the end, he’s learned a lesson in leadership he’ll never forget.
That’s the kind of cliched stuff going on throughout “Hunter Killer.”
The title comes from a class of submarines specifically designed to attack and sink other submarines. The movie starts during what should be a normal peacetime encounter between an American sub and a Russian sub beneath the polar ice which turns deadly when both of them are sunk by an unknown third vessel. The latter turns out to be part of some rogue Russian forces led by Admiral Durov, who is staging a coup that includes kidnapping the Russian president and convincing the world the Americans are behind the whole thing.
While investigating the sinking of the first US sub, Captain Joe and his crew aboard the USS Arkansas are dragged into the Durov matter, along with four Navy Seals who are sent to rescue the Russian leader and bring him on board the Arkansas so he can tell the world the truth about what’s happened. The Seals are your usual snarky tough guys, expert in everything they do, making up their own rules as they work the mission — hey, just like Captain Joe!
Meanwhile, monitoring all this at the Pentagon, Rear Admiral Fisk (Common) and NSA Officer Jayne Norquist (Linda Cardellini) are in their own battle with Joint Chiefs Chairman Donnegan (Gary Oldman). He can’t wait to raise the threat level to DefCon One and take on the Russians, while they have faith in Captain Joe and the Seals to resolve the crisis without exchanging missiles. There’s a scene in the White House situation room in which all three make their case to US President Dover (Caroline Goodall) that made me wonder if “Hunter Killer” was made before Trump was elected. I checked and, sure enough, most of the movie was shot in the summer of 2016, when they probably assumed the US was about to have its own female president in Hillary Clinton. That means it was also filmed before Oldman took on his Oscar-winning role as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour,” which required slightly less scenery-chewing than he does here.
“Hunter Killer” is the first really big movie that Donovan Marsh has directed and he does a good job with its look. The underwater scenes contain some of the best submarine footage since “Hunt For Red October,” and he doesn’t let the soundtrack and special effects get in the way of the drama. Unfortunately, he was stuck with a script that’s filled with more stereotypical characters than anything else I’ve seen lately.
Still, if you don’t go in with high expectations but want a little bit of escapist action-movie entertainment, you could do worse than “Hunter Killer.” I give it a 5 out of 10.