'Hunter Killer' Review

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There’s no denying that Gerard Butler has been box office poison. Since his 2007 breakthrough blockbuster “300”, not one of the 18 live-action films Butler has starred in has grossed more than $100 million in the U.S.. And most of those movies (including last year’s “Geostorm”) simply aren’t very good. When it comes to financial success (or lack of it), “Hunter Killer” will more than likely extend the actor’s streak to 19 bombs in a row. The film has been on the shelf for nearly two years. And it’s being released by small Summit Premiere at the end of October. The first, cheesy trailer, which made “Hunter Killer” look like a Direct to DVD movie, probably sealed its fate.

But it turns out: “Hunter Killer” is actually a sophisticated, suspenseful and surprisingly good action thriller. And that’s thanks, in large part, to Butler, who without question gives one of the best performances of his career.

In this not-so-far-out “what if” scenario, Butler plays untested submarine captain Joe Glass. He’s brought-in by the U.S. government to take over command of the USS Arkansas for a highly dangerous mission. He and his crew must find a fellow U.S. sub that’s gone missing in Russian waters.

We’ve seen plenty of U.S. v. Russia military face-off movies for decades now. “Hunter Killer” actually puts a new spin on this tired rivalry. The clever script by Arne Schmidt and Jamie Moss (based on the 2012 novel Firing Point by Don Keith and George Wallace) keeps much of the action inside the subs. Through a series of events, involving four different plot elements that nicely connect, the enemy superpowers are forced to work together in order to prevent WWIII.

Gerard Butler
Gerard Butler

The supporting cast is led by Oscar winner Gary Oldman, who filmed “Hunter Killer” before transforming into Winston Churchill for “Darkest Hour”. Oldman doesn’t get a lot of screen time as Admiral Charles Donnegan, the person calling the shots above the water, but he does have a couple showcase scenes. Fellow Academy Award recipient Common and “Daddy’s Home”‘s Linda Cardellini also have their moments. And Michael Nyqvist, who shot his scenes about a year before his death in 2017, is terrific as the Russian sub captain.

Most of the effects and action scenes are commendable. The solid cinematography makes the subs appear to come right out of the screen. And the editing does get better over the course of the movie.

I went into “Hunter Killer” with low expectations and walked out more than satisfied. A fresh, focused script and believable performances make this one of the top action thrillers of the year.

Jackson Murphy: Emmy Award-winning Film Critic / Entertainment Reporter. Broadcast Film Critics Assoc. (@CriticsChoice), SAG-AFTRA (@SAGAwards)