Release Date(s)2018 (January 29, 2019)
Studio(s)Summit Premiere/Millenium Films/Lionsgate (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B-
Hunter Killer is an action thriller that opens with a Russian submarine sinking an American sub because the Russian commander thinks the Americans fired first. This disaster sets in motion a whole series of events that have world-shaking ramifications.
Joe Glass (Gerard Butler) is assigned to command the submarine USS Arkansas, a hunter killer – the term for subs that hunt down and attack other subs. Glass and crew head for the site of the submarine battle to discover what actually happened.
In Russia, Defense Minister Dmitri Durov (Michael For) has staged a coup and captured President Zakarin (Alexander Diachenko). Durov wants to trick the Americans into starting a war with Russia.
At the Pentagon, Admiral Donnegan (Gary Oldman) locks horns with Rear Admiral John Fisk (Common) and NSA senior analyst Jayne Norquist (Linda Cardellini) about how to handle the crisis.
In yet another sub-plot, Lt. Bill Beaman (Toby Stephens) and his Navy SEALs team parachute into Russia to free Zakarin and let him assure the world that traitors in his government are trying to manipulate Russia and the United States into shooting at each other.
There’s an awful lot of plot in Hunter Killer. It has some terrific special effects but is riddled with war movie clichés, cardboard characters, improbable scenarios, and unlikely coincidences. Yet for all of its nonsensical plotting, it moves along briskly and offers plenty of action, most of it from inside and outside the submarines. The exterior scenes, accomplished with CGI, are realistic and capture the stealth of these vessels as they monitor and serve as defenses against perceived aggression.
Butler’s Glass is right out of a World War II flick playbook. He’s brash and impulsive, refuses to heed advice, takes risks, and ignores warnings from his fellow officers. That he’s always right and his decisions always pay off makes the movie that much more preposterous.
Oldman, who has done exceptional work in other films, is dreadful as an admiral given to temper tantrums and losing his cool in a crisis. Loud, obnoxious, and often on the verge of hysteria, he is far from the kind of person you want to count on in an emergency. The role is far too broadly written and Oldman adds little nuance.
Director Donovan Marsh jumps around from one location to another in an attempt to connect all the sub-plots, not always successfully. There are at least three different movies in Hunter Killer squeezed into a single film. Overly ambitious, the movie never rises above a mediocre action flick with above-average special effects.
The Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack contains a Digital Copy code found on a paper insert within the package. The Blu-ray disc features 1080p resolution. Aspect ratio is 2.39:1. Running time is 121 minutes. Visual quality overall is impressive. Underwater sequences stand out for their realism. The Arkansas is seen maneuvering through a murky, treacherous, mined channel. Underwater explosions are effectively staged with fiery bursts appearing like bright blotches on a grey canvas. Scenes within the sub have a bluish tone and contrast with the high key lighting of the Pentagon’s war room. The SEALs are dressed in dark outfits and their sequences are dark and deeply shadowed.
Language tracks include English Dolby Atmos and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio. Subtitles include Spanish and English SDH. The Dolby Atmos track is particularly effective during underwater explosions, with a split second delay between visual and audio. Clarity of dialogue is consistent throughout. A parachute jump by the SEALs team contains a nice balance of the sounds of the plane’s engines, dialogue, and rushing wind. A series of rockets being fired has an impressive “whoosh” sound, and bullets hitting the sides of a small rescue sub can be heard from both left and right.
Bonus features on this 2-Disc release include director’s audio commentary and the two-part featurette Surface Tension: Declassifying Hunter Killer.
Audio Commentary – Director Donovan Marsh explains that the term “hunter killer” refers to attack-and-search submarines. Subs navigate under icebergs primarily through sonar, which is a precise skill. Key crew and cast members spent three days aboard a nuclear submarine out of Pearl Harbor. Some scenes were shot on board the actual sub and then combined with studio sets. Submariners train together and serve together, which creates camaraderie among the crew. The coin that is featured in the movie is an actual part of military tradition. Every warship has one. The set was built on a gimbal to approximate the 30-degree angle when a submarine dives. A Bulgarian naval base complete with trucks and equipment stood in for a Russian naval base. Underwater SEALs action was filmed in a tank, with CGI bullets added in post-production. Several endings were considered. The director intentionally avoided backstories for the characters, preferring to show them in the “here and now.” Marsh prefers two-shots in which the characters can be seen reacting to one another in the same frame.
Surface Tension: Declassifying Hunter Killer
Part 1: The Crew – Gerard Butler discusses reinventing the submarine genre. The script lay dormant for a while because there was little tension between Russia and the United States. Over time, four or five directors were involved, changes were made, characters tweaked, but the basic story always remained the same. The script was updated to feel “of the moment.” Common states that “Hunter Killer does have a voice for this time.” Marsh notes that there was “a lot of story to be told” and the “essence of a great thriller is you don’t know what’s going to happen next.” Commander Glass thinks “out of the box” to resolve problems. The camera is always kept in motion, particularly on the sub and in the war room. Actors discuss their experiences working on the movie.
Part 2: Tactical Readiness – According to director Donovan Marsh, “a big part of my picture is authenticity.” The interior of the sub set had to look like the real thing. Technical advisor Russ Coons and producer John Thompson discuss going to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii for an already planned 3-day journey aboard a real submarine by the cast and crew to experience life on a nuclear sub. Trained by the sub’s navy crew, the cast acted a few scenes on board. Later scenes, shot at the studio, were seamlessly combined.
– Dennis Seuling