Hunter Killer

Posted on October 25, 2018 at 5:44 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence and some language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive military action, peril, and violence, guns, explosions, many characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 26, 2018
Date Released to DVD: January 27, 2019
Copyright 2018 Summit Premiere

Submarines provide instant drama because they are as closed off from the rest of the world as it is possible to be in the era of instant global communications. The officers have to make life and death decisions not only for themselves but sometimes for the whole world with limited information and ability to get orders from their commanders. They are stuck with each other in a setting that combines the maximum of isolation with the highest of stakes. That is why there are so many memorable submarine movies, from “The Hunt for Red October” to “Crimson Tide” to “U-571,” “Das Boot,” and even “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” There are also often fascinating details about the technology involved. And that is why Gerard Butler‘s latest movie about saving yet another world leader from personal and geopolitical catastrophe, “Hunter Killer,” holds our interest, despite the preposterousness of the plot.

The president of Russia has been kidnapped in a coup, and according to this film the only chance of rescue is up to the US Navy Seals and the captain of a US Navy submarine. If you can get on board with that idea, the mechanics and action should keep you on board through the end.

Butler plays Captain Joe Glass and we know he is a good guy because we first see him about to shoot a deer with a very manly bow and arrow but then decide not to when he sees the deer’s sweet mate and their baby. We see he is scrappy and tough but fair as he introduces himself to his new crew. He explains that he is not one of those fancy-pants Annapolis grads who learned what they do in a classroom. He’s an up-from-the bottom scrapper who will demand the best because he has had their jobs and knows what is possible.

It is really three movies in one as four Navy Seals enter Russia, first to get intel, and then, after their cameras reveal the coup, to rescue the kidnapped Russian president, the top brass in the Pentagon, including a skeptic (Gary Oldman), an intelligence officer (Linda Cardellini), and the decent guy trying to hold it together (Common), and then the attack sub led by Captain Glass. The other name for an attack submarine is hunter-killer.

The action scenes are powerfully staged, with outstanding sound and visual effects. And the film skillfully balances the big booms with the small moments between the (mostly) men. The film’s most compelling scene is when Glass has to find a way to gain the trust of a Russian captain (the late Michael Nyqvist, showing canny grizzled wisdom) very quickly and the two men recognize that they have more in common with each other than they ever will with the guys back home giving them orders based on politics and computer screens. Toby Stephens is also excellent as the leader of the Navy Seals.

There’s a lot of tech talk and tough talk and thousand yard stares. But there’s also some impressive action and a storyline that, let’s face it, is no more outlandish than current headlines and much more satisfying.

Parents should know that this film includes extended military peril and violence, guns, bombs, explosions, kidnapping, political coup, characters injured and killed, a brief crude reference, and strong language.

Family discussion: What difference did it make that Captain Glass had served as a crewman? What made the Russian and American captains trust each other?

If you like this, try: “Under Siege” and “The Hunt for Red October”

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Phantom

Posted on February 28, 2013 at 6:00 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drinking game, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Extended violence, characters injured and killed, suicide
Diversity Issues: Cultural differences
Date Released to Theaters: March 1, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B00B635CPI

Submarine movies are immediately gripping because they are powerful microcosms that amplify conflict.  A small group of people in very close quarters, highly trained and with an explicit mission are then completely disconnected from the rest of the world.  When problems arise, they have to decide what to do with very limited information and no access to authority outside the ship.  Great drama, when it works.  This time, though, not so much.

Theoretically “inspired by true events” but more like “a massive flight of fantasy and speculation slightly tied to one possible thing that might have happened,” this submarine story begins with a promising twist.  American actors play members of the Soviet navy during the Cold War.  We might expect Ed Harris, William Fitchtner, and David Duchovny to be the Americans fighting the Soviets.  It takes a few moments to get used to the idea that we are rooting for the guys in the striped shirts pushing the buttons with Cyrillic labels, or at least some of them.

Ed Harris plays Demi, a captain with a dark past (yes, we’ll find out what that’s about) who gets unexpected orders to ship out on a secret mission, his last, on a sub that makes the assignment somehow even more meaningful and ironic (yes, we’ll find out that, too).  It is the sub’s last mission, too, before it will be sold to the Chinese.

Because it comes up so suddenly, he gets a new crew, along with two passengers operating under some higher authority but not revealing very much about what they are doing.  The leader is Bruni (Duchovny), whose arrogance seems to outweigh Demi’s air of resignation.

Demi is still anguished about a mistake made early in his career and the sense that only his father’s high rank and prestige kept him from being discharged dishonorably.  When he discovers that Bruni’s plans would put the entire world at risk, he has to become the leader he once dreamed of being.

Writer/director Todd Robinson clearly cares passionately about the material but he often loses track of the narrative.  There are many scenes of people racing and chasing down narrow corridors and men staring and analog instrumentation.  There are so many shifting power plays that it is difficult to keep track, and the story escalates so preposterously that it is difficult to care.

Parents should know that this is an intense Cold War story that deals with issues of nuclear war and includes extended sequences of peril and violence, with many characters injured and killed.

Family discussion: How should Demi decide which orders to follow?  Listen to and discuss the “This American Life” story about the real-life notes provided to British officers in nuclear submarines to be opened in case of catastrophe.  What should the note say?

If you like this, try: “Crimson Tide,” “The Hunt for Red October,” and “K-19: The Widowmaker”

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