The movie that puts the "so?" in "sonar," "Hunter Killer" will disappoint anyone who prefers their submarine thrillers to run silent, and run deep, or who appreciates a director's mastery of confined underwater spaces.
Based on the 2012 novel "Firing Point," it's less a submarine picture and more a noisy, oddly structured mashup of Russian military coup, Navy SEALs rescue operation and Gerard Butler's ability to clench his jaw three clicks past the setting "fully clenched." Seriously, I worry about his teeth. If that mouth guard could only talk.
Butler plays Joe Glass, a good Joe to his men and a clever, uncompromising, newly promoted commander in a pickle. A U.S. sub has been lost in the Arctic. A Russian sub, meanwhile, has been seriously damaged, sabotaged from within. Commander Glass of the USS Arkansas watches, and waits, and clenches, while up on terra firma the Russian defense minister (Mikhail Gorevoy, the very picture of weaseldom) takes the Russian president (Alexander Diachenko) hostage in a military coup. The bad guy spouts nationalist rhetoric and "Russia First!" propaganda, so you know he's bad.
The script by Arne Schmidt and Jamie Moss runs around keeping track of the Navy SEAL operation (Toby Stephens, Michael Trucco, Ryan McPartlin and Zane Holtzplay the blandly differentiated ground team), the escalating threat of Russian/U.S. war and the Pentagon brass back home.
Among those staring at monitors and frowning: Common plays an admiral; Linda Cardellini is the NSA official who knows more than the guys, yet barely gets a word in edgewise; and Gary Oldman brings tons and bunches of unmotivated and SUDDENLY LOUD and then quiet again and then LOUD AGAIN technique to the role of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He wants to see the war through, rather than watch Commander Glass solve the problem tactically and peaceably.
South African director Donovan Marsh manages a swift, bloody assault on the waterfront office building occupied by the coup gang, and I liked the two quick shots of the paratroopers landing at high speeds on cold, hard ground. The rest of "Hunter Killer" gets lost in digital effects and jumpy editing and Glass flipping his lucky coin, over and over, like an underwater George Raft.
Only the late Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist, as the Russian sub commander rescued by Glass, acts with stern distinction and zero histrionics. He was a fine actor; he'll be missed.