"Hunter Killer" is a dad movie. Filled with serious people doing serious things — often shouting at each other in the close quarters of submarines, warship decks and command centers — it's just the sort of thing meant for eventual viewing in recliners by old men sipping beers who swore they didn't nod off during that last scene.
The movie takes a 360-degree view of American-Russian brinkmanship, ranging from crews in nuclear subs, black ops squads and Pentagon bigwigs coordinating tactics. Mistrust and egotism are rampant, with both sides posturing, subverting command, set to push the envelope off the edge of the table and into a World War III inferno.
Much of the movie is angry men with veins popping out of their foreheads barking at one another. Taking a more nuanced approach than standard us-versus-them jingoism, "Hunter Killer" ends up being a war that bridges both sides, pitting doves against hawks. Those who would use armed conflict as a last resort work to undermine and subvert those who would use the chaos of war to seize power for themselves.
The film is its best when aboard the USS Arkansas, which skirts the ocean floor to sneak into mine-filled waters off the Russian coast. Maverick captain Joe Glass (Gerard Butler) cracks his whip on his wary crew, which seeks out the remains of an American sub that has apparently been torpedoed by Russian forces.
"Hunter Killer" hits just the right spot, in no small part because they simply don't often make 'em like this anymore.
There aren't many mainstream submarine movies out there. The last notable entries in the genre were "The Hunt for Red October" (1990), "U-571" (2000) and "K19: The Widowmaker" (2002). "Hunter Killer" proudly carries in the proud, robust tradition of those films.
Powerful turns from Butler, Linda Cardellini as an NSA advisor, Alexander Diachenko as a Russian commander -- as well as Common and Gary Oldman as American powerbrokers -- stand out among a sea of strong performances.
"Hunter Killer" is well-written enough to stand tall as a stage play, but its steady stream of high-powered action sequences conjure a wow factor that pushes it far beyond that realm. While not particularly surprising in its twists, the film moves with a tense elegance that maintains its taut dramatic tension throughout.
That's what helps keep "Hunter Killer" afloat. It's a crackling and majestic war movie that navigates rough seas with aplomb, making you realize maybe dad is onto something.