Hunter Killer

 

            I hate being late to movies.  Even if several somebodies try to explain to you what you missed, it's secondhand at best, even if their memory is good and their perceptions are better.  But stepping into this one tardy, and having to figure what's going on, created a kind of viewer tension that the online pundits say this film definitely lacks.

            Here's Gerard Butler, commanding a submarine.  He seems to have good rapport with his enlisted men, but his second-in-command second-guesses him at every turn.  A submarine is an awfully close space for continual criticism, just short of outright mutiny.  So there's some internal tension.

            Meanwhile, these bad-ass soldier guys, armed to the teeth, are getting ready to jump out of an airplane.  It's not clear to me what their mission is supposed to be, but stealth seems to be an important part of it.  Though greatly prepared for a firefight, they are trying to sneak into the Russian naval base without being detected.  They then launch an underwater drone with camera capability, to send photos of what's happening back to some kind of situation room in Washington.  There's plenty of disagreement in that room, as well, about how to proceed.  There's the customary high-ranking military guy with the hawkish outlook, hair-triggered and ready to go to war in the name of national security.  But they decide that guy needs to be Gary Oldman, whom we last saw on the big screen as Winston Churchill, a hawk of another generation.

            Back to the submarine.  By launching their underwater recon drone, they are able to ascertain that their own sub was definitely hit by a torpedo.  It seems World War III may have started, and it's us against the Ruskies.  But wait, further on there's a Russian sub with a big gaping hole, and no, it didn't come from our sub's torpedo, but rather, was blown up from the inside.  Sabatoge.  And further, there's banging on the hatch that they can clearly hear, so somebody in there's still alive.  Our intrepid captain decides to rescue the Russians trapped in there, if for no other reason than to find out what's happening.  Turns out one of them is the captain of the Russian sub, played by Michael Nyqvist, a veteran Swedish actor who died of lung cancer last year.  Yes, that feels a little strange, as if you're seeing a ghost.

            Now it becomes clear that what's happening is that the Russian Defense Minister, one of those high-ranking military hawks, kidnaps his own President so he can stage a coup, and start a War with us while he's at it.  He says that being the aggressor will give him the advantage (probably right about that), and that afterwards nobody will care how it started (probably not right about that).

            Whatever their original mission,now the American soldiers on the ground are supposed to rescue the Russian President, then deliver him to Butler's submarine by means of a mini-sub, and then maybe he can stop this rogue Defense Minister guy before he engulfs us all in flames.  But first we need the captured Russian sub commander to lead us through the treacherously mined harbor surrounding the naval base.  Oh, and we also need to befriend that pesky Russian destroyer that threatens to enter the fray and upset the delicate negotiating balance.  Will they believe their captured commander, or the sudden coup?

            Is it all too wildly improbable?  Sure it is.  But there are a few harrowing moments, and a couple of good action scenes, and some stock photos of missiles firing and modern armadas sailing that are thrown in to add gravitas, if not authenticity.  The ending is as corny as any formulaic Western, but at least our hero didn't single-handedly save the day; he just was the one who trusted in a tricky route toward peace rather than the easy path to war.  That's commendable in any context, and is always better late than never.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association.