Hunter Killer – 2018
Director Donovan Marsh
Screenplay Arne Schmidt, Jamie Moss based on Firing Point by Don Keith and George Wallace
Starring Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman, Common, Linda Cardellini, Toby Stephens, Michael Nyqvist
In weighing the pros and cons on whether or not I watch another well-intentioned but mostly average Gerard Butler film, there are a few factors that stand out. First of all, Butler, is a pro. He interviews so well in the Empire movie podcasts, even going so far as to treat his own product with honesty and humility. His characters are not far-ranging, but they are ever stoic, steel jawed and forthright. They are as American as any Scottish actor can rightly endeavor to make them.
One big negative is Common. So tired am I of seeing him at awards shows, I immediately turn the channel the moment he takes the stage. I don’t have enough time to suffer in the name of whatever somber soberness he wants us to contemplate through his rap.
Gary Oldman. Who wouldn’t want to see him act his way out of a paper bag in the shape of a basic action script?
Linda Cardellini is a mixed bag. She can act when she’s put to the task, but one can’t expect that to happen in a Butler film.
Then I saw Michael Nyqvist and I smiled. I knew the movie couldn’t be too bad.
Anyone who’s seen the Millenium Trilogy (known most widely as the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series) knows who Nyqvist as journalist Mikael Blomkvist. He then hit one out of the park as the bad guy in the 4th and still the best Mission Impossible film. Nyqvist is one of my favorite actors, and I was saddened to hear of his passing in June of 2017.
Here he plays Russian submarine Captain Andropov. His relationship with Butler’s American Commander Joe Glass turns into one of the true delights of what is otherwise a good, but not great film.
The story is one of brinkmanship between Russia and America in the Russian Arctic sea. How and why we get there is not as important as who they send to bring the bad guys to heel. In this case, Glass is asked to work with 4 Navy SEALs led by Lieutenant Beaman (Stephens) in order to undo the damage caused by a rogue defense minister.
The film has some moments of genuine intensity. There are things they do which are entertaining, but I am unsure are possible. There are some common submarine tropes here, but there are a few things I don’t recall seeing before. To their credit, we do not see any scenes where sailors are locked to their drowning doom to save the rest of the ship. Is that a spoiler? I hope not.
Gary Oldman is Admiral Donnegan. His job is to shout, expect the worst and push rational thoughts aside. He does this with more overacting zeal than I have seen him use since Romeo is Bleeding.
Common is Rear Admiral Fisk. He discovers that Cardellini’s NSA senior analyst Norquist has some good ideas, and he sticks his neck out to see that they get a chance to give them a try. He doesn’t have any words of wisdom here, thank God. He mainly keeps his composure when Donnegan yells at him.
If I don’t have much to say about Cardellini, it’s only because she’s really there to give concerned looks and present the one idea all of the men in the room don’t seem capable of entertaining on their own. She does this, then sits to the side, looking concerned once more. Yes, she’s better than this, but she also has bills to pay.
Stephens is pretty good in a role that normally would have been played by Butler. That Butler the producer decided to forgo the rough and tumble in order to stay on a ship is good for the film. Even if the SEALS play like parts of a routine we’ve seen before, there is a dimension Stephens gives that adds something new through the clichés.
Butler is actually pretty good as Commander Glass. This is primarily due to his interactions with the eternally forlorn Nyqvist. They form a bond that is essential during the most tense parts of the film. It gives a dimension that keeps your eyes and mind from wandering, even if you’ve seen most of it before.
There are no amount of words that can describe the unique quality of Nyqvist’s acting here. He says more with his sad eyes than a room full of Oscar winners could with a thousand pages of script. It is a genuine pleasure to witness it for likely the second to last time. I will be there when Mallick releases Radegund.
Let’s be honest. It’s not a tremendous work of art that Marsh, Butler and co. have produced here. There are no nominations or awards forthcoming. What Hunter Killer does have, though, is enjoyability on a completely masculine scale. It’s the kind of film I might have watched with my dad when he was alive. It deserves respect for being competent, entertaining and earnest to a fault, if not original.
(*** out of *****)