I have to admit that my expectations for Hunter Killer were basically nonexistent, knowing absolutely nothing about the film’s existence prior to the week before, and seeing the trailer just hours before the screening. So if you were to tell me that I would go into an action film starring Gerard Butler that doesn’t end with “...Fallen” and come out really enjoying myself, I would have been massively defensive about the entire situation. A heads up that “surprising” is a word you’ll read a ton in this review and in truth that’s what it is; a surprising rediscovery of a sunken genre.
Donovan Marsh’s direction is surprisingly stellar in Hunter Killer, particularly in showcasing the action and dialogue within a submarine during a threatening situation. However, along the way there are surely some missteps in directorial decisions being made. A couple of major focus points aren’t brought across in a highly realistic way, although that’s not something a film like this should be worrying about. There are just moments here and there that from a direction standpoint could have been corrected, especially the mix of real and fake scenery. The submarine scenes are tightly bound around the main leads and when the film focuses its attention inside, it’s one of the most riveting war thrillers in a while. However with the unfortunate mixture of the government officials consulting and the outside soldiers taking a stand on ground, the film loses some momentum and intrigue. All in all, Marsh’s direction is incredibly better than what I was expecting from this smaller director’s first wide release in the states.
Threatened by a possible war with the Russians, the United States sends in their best men to discover what really happened to a sunken American vessel. Along the way things easily go awry, causing an unexpected rescue mission that nobody could have seen coming that makes the difference between an all out war and relative peace between countries. A struggling attribute of the film’s script is the intriguing submarine crew versus the less interesting on-ground soldiers. I appreciate the other perspective outside of the submarine but their inclusion is boosted to be of absolute necessity to the plot and that’s just untrue. In fact when a submarine crew member gets injured I have concern for the failure of the sub, however if a soldier gets lethally wounded I don’t have a bone to pick with the enemy for making the shot. The story is relatively cut and dry with a slight twist along the way (given away in trailers), but the reason the story gets by for its generic qualities is the characters and the way the actors portray the actions taking place on screen. Hunter Killer comes from some incredibly established writers, and while it’s certainly not the most well crafted screenplay, it is an entertaining good time that truthfully could have been cut short by a couple of minutes for plot sake.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Just like everything else in the film, the cast did a surprisingly great job giving a deeper level to the otherwise standard characters. Gerard Butler gives an entertaining performance as the captain, and while he’s never been an academy award contender, his acting does a ton with the elevating energy the film conveys. The crew and their concern all seems genuine, which brings in an entire new element into the story, with each section of the ship working to keep the vessel from plunging into the surface below. As stated earlier, the on-ground soldiers needed a little more to make them a satisfying addition to the film. They provide an entirely different tone to their sections of the feature, seeming as though they leapt from another film straight into this one. While these characters don’t fit the tone of the remainder of the film for a majority of the runtime, they do a decent enough job with what they have to not care too much for their obscurity in the plot. Alongside the minor characters and even some major side characters are several great actors: Gary Oldman, Linda Cardellini, & Common yet they are severely underutilized in the feature. The trio’s roles aren’t completely forgettable, but for larger names like these they aren’t in the foreground as much as they probably should, leaving room for more unknown actors to pave their way in front of them.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Possibly the best thing about the movie is the electric score by Trevor Morris, which is surprising when put up against his other composer credits. His other credits mainly include direct to video fare but his theatrical titles include those of the ...Fallen series, which share a striking resemblance to that of Hunter Killer’s score. Although ...Fallen captures the essence of the B-Movie action taking place, Hunter Killer manages to remove the generic undertone of those scores extraordinarily well. The action scenes aren’t just well shot, they also are supported by naturally fitting sound effects, from torpedoes firing underwater to them hitting their targets with a bang, everything sounds expertly on cue.
Digital effects wise, there is some embarrassing imagery mainly during exterior shots, and especially when characters discuss with a vast backdrop. It never, not for even a second, looks realistic and it’s truly a factor that makes the film struggle when considering it’s taking you away from your world and into theirs. The set design of the submarine, U.S.S. Indianapolis, was extraordinarily well constructed, building an atmosphere that was easy to appreciate for its simplistic and claustrophobic nature. The ultra realism of some amateur footage outside submarines, helicopters, and soldiers’ perspectives give an odd comparison to the over-the-top unrealistic backdrops forged behind the actors. The majority of the film is perfection in its simplicity, but the parts that go a little out of that comfort zone don’t make a big splash on screen.
The best way to watch Hunter Killer is with absolutely no expectations, and while this review may send the vibe of positivity for the film, I don’t want you to go just because of my hype. It’s not a film for everyone, more for those that are willing to sit back, turn off their brain, and enjoy a resurgence of the sunken genre of submarine thrillers. It may not be a great film, or a really even a good one, but it’s certainly a guilty pleasure that I wouldn’t mind watching again when the time is right.