Don’t think for a second I don’t recognize that Hunter Killer (2018) is chock full of clichés. Joe Glass (Gerard Butler) ascends from the rank and file to captain his first submarine on a mission to investigate a missing US sub, which they find sunk alongside a Russian sub. Unable to contact Russian President Zakarin (Alexander Diachenko), the US sends out a Navy SEAL recon team, which discovers that Zakarin is being held captive in a coup led by war-hungry Defense Minister Durov (Mikhail Gorevoy). Naturally, the two plotlines are combined to form a rescue mission for Zakarin. Despite numerous resemblances to The Hunt for Red October (1990), the characters are never as round, and the strategy lacks the feeling of high-stakes tension, despite the high stakes. Yet if you can look past the weak but functional script by Arne Schmidt and Jamie Moss, this film is enthralling enough.
Aside from the clichés, the production values are strong. Directed by Donovan Marsh, this is Butler’s passion project, in pre-production since 2011, and it shows. The camerawork by Tom Marais is dynamic and coherent—no shaky-cam here!—the editing by Michael J. Duthie is clean and unobtrusive, and the US Navy-approved production design is authentic and cinematic. Even the acting is better than expected, featuring not only Butler (who once upon a time, it is said, could act) but also Gary Oldman as the Navy Chief of Staff, Common as the rear admiral in charge of both missions, Linda Cardellini as the NSA attaché, and Michael freakin’ Nyqvist (RIP) as Captain Andropov of the downed Russian sub, who’s saved by Butler’s boat and plays a key role in the rescue mission.
It’s overall nothing to write home about, and the reason I’m writing this at all is because of one thing in particular that separates this film from Red October: the on-board use of digital interface technology. It should be no surprise that the sea charts are now digital; what’s more surprising is how the sonar soundscape is now rendered visually as well. And the ending of Red October would never happen today, as torpedoes can now be remote-controlled, also with visualization technology. No idea if these are real or created for cinematic effect, but if they are real, the general vulnerability of digital technology to bugs and crashes has me very worried for the US Navy.
Editor’s note: A Full review has been published at Critics at Large.