A Russian president is held hostage by his own Minister of Defense, who threatens to unleash a series of attacks against Americans that could potentially trigger World War 3. A Navy SEAL team on a reconnaissance mission is tasked with rescuing him. Deep underwater, a US submarine categorised as a ‘Hunter Killer’ investigates the disappearance of a lost American sub, when they discover a damaged Russian submarine and take their crew as prisoners of war. They receive orders to enter treacherous Russian territory and help the SEAL team with the extraction of the Russian president.
The submarine is captained by Joe Glass (Gerard Butler) who is given the aura of being a tougher-than-nails, no-nonsense leader, or effectively, almost every other Gerard Butler character. But he subverts that expectation in a restrained performance. Michael Nyqvist, in one of his last roles before his demise, brings a war-weary and insightful aura to Captain Andropov. His interactions with Captain Glass are fascinating as the two skippers share a tense yet humane kinship. There are some moments of intrigue created when the two rival captains encounter each other. Back at the command room, Gary Oldman’s trigger-happy Admiral Charles Donnegan barks orders at everyone, which gets hammy pretty quickly. Although he serves merely to raise the stakes, this is Oldman at his bombastic best, or worst, depending on how much you can bear. Meanwhile, we’re also expected to genuinely care about the team of Navy SEALS lead by a macho Bill Beaman (Toby Stephens), because they’re the ones at the front of the line in the rescue mission.
At the outset, there are many sub-plots to juggle between; made worse by tonal shifts in each area of a convoluted screenplay. However, those are the least of its problems. While there’s some excitement towards the final act, the film takes painfully long to get going by investing a lot of time in its setup. ‘Hunter Killer’ also belongs to an alternative reality where Russians speak heavily-accented yet fluent English, and the American president is a woman. As far as creative liberties go, there are bigger atrocities committed to film, but these disconnect you from all the intended seriousness. Based on the 2012 novel ‘Firing Point’, most of this premise comes across as another tired excuse for ‘good ole’ American patriotism to save the world. In theory, ‘Hunter Killer’ has a lot going for it, but instead, we get unintentional movie mayhem that’s bound to test your patience along the way.