Hunter Killer review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Gerard Butler can be a suitable action actor for the right project. Throw him into a film with lots of battles, gunfire, and explosions and he’ll bring out that inner beast. But for the submarine action picture Hunter Killer, it seems like some ordered a vanilla Butler. No emotional responses, no gritting of his teeth, and no harsh shouting. This isn’t even a brooding Butler that holds a quiet dignity. Here he stands in a role that requires him to be calm and stoic with hardly a trace of emotion.
I can’t blame Butler though. Hunter Killer is a film that does so little for intrigue in its lukewarm attempt to replicate the tunnel-vision appeal of a Tom Clancy novel. He plays Captain Joe Glass, a man called in to help solve a tough political situation of Americans and Russians on the brink of starting a war with a missing submarine. Glass is just the man for the job considering his stick-to-the-script methods as opposed to feuding arguments between Rear Admiral John Fisk (Common) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Charles Donnegan (Gary Oldman) on how to proceed. Oldman thankfully brings some heated words to an otherwise dreary military drama, having the honor of declaring that those in charge have not only started a war but lost it as well.
It’s sad, really, that Butler never gets to break out into a similar bit of hysterics, perhaps out of fears of him replicating his more familiar persona from the likes of 300 or Olympus Has Fallen. But why would you do that? The Hunt for the Red October, an obvious inspiration, was more notable because of the compelling performances and the tense atmosphere. And since this type of story is never given all that much glamour past the basic-level blockbuster theatrics of an underwhelming epic score, shaky camera work, and coordinated dialogue, the actors really have to carry the picture. To be fair, Butler does have a certain leadership quality but it’s vastly understated here. Again, why? What is the point in trying to stage a submarine drama with such slow and snoozing dignity when there have been dozens of these types of pictures prior with little new?
This is a workhorse picture where trying to judge its appeal is like trying to judge the entertainment value of a pen. It performs more or less the way it was designed. It stages some submarine action with is serviceable surface. There’s political intrigue that does at the very least keep the plot moving at a progressive pace. There are some gunfights for an extraction, staged with little hints of great stunt work and grit. But aside from some solid special effects and camera work, there’s little else to be invested in.
Hunter Killer did have a theatrical debut but it’s yet another vanilla entry in the military action genre that will soon be wedged between other generic titles that will soon be forgotten. I’ll admit there is a competency to this type of film that does put the effort in the production to stage a believable tale of politics, submarines, soldiers, and combat. But like a fine-looking car without any gas, it does little more than look pretty as it chugs along on fumes for energy.