Review of “Hunter Killer”

Commander Joe Glass (Gerard Butler) has just been put in command of the nuclear submarine USS Arkansas. This is his first command and the higher ups are nervous about having someone inexperienced in charge of a submarine armed with nuclear missiles; especially right now. Things have grown more tense with Russia and one of our nuclear subs, the USS Tampa Bay, has gone missing 40 miles off the coast of Russia in the Tamarin Sea. It was trailing a Russian sub when an explosion sends it to the bottom. The Tampa Bay was then hit by a torpedo and sunk as well. Russian President Zakarin (Alexander Diachenko) is visiting one of his country’s naval bases when Defense Minister Dimitri Durov (Mikhail Gorevoy) takes him hostage in the beginning of a coup. Durov intends to start a war with the United States to reestablish Russia as a world power to be feared and respected. A SEAL team led by Lt. Bill Beaman (Toby Stephens) is sent to observe the base and beams video of the coup back to Washington. Rear Admiral John Fisk (Common) and NSA senior analyst Jayne Norquist (Linda Cardellini) suggest the SEAL team rescue Zakarin and get him to safety on board the Arkansas. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Charles Donnegan (Gary Oldman) thinks the only realistic response is to gather American forces and prepare to face the Russians. Even the slightest mistake could plunge humanity into World War III.

“Hunter Killer” is the designation given to submarines that hunt other submarines. They carry out other duties, but their primary mission is to look for enemy subs and destroy them. We get a bit of the dangerous cat-and-mouse game these subs play as “Hunter Killer” starts. It seems like a frequently tense but also usually dull way to serve your nation. Since this is a movie, the action is ladled on thick and heavy from the beginning. As long as you don’t think too much about it, the movie is a fun nautical and political action/thriller; however, give it one second of scrutiny and the film falls apart from the weight of its own silliness.

The most realistic thing about “Hunter Killer” is the possibility of a Russian president being overthrown in a coup. It nearly happened to Russia’s first popularly elected president Boris Yeltsin in 1993. A struggling economy, widespread corruption and some unconstitutional orders from Yeltsin led to an armed uprising to depose him. Military coups happen all over the world, so the possibility of something similar happening in Russia isn’t farfetched. That’s about the only thing in the film that doesn’t make you wonder.

There are several strange choices made by the filmmakers as they created the world of “Hunter Killer.” First, the likelihood a SEAL team could get close enough to a Russian naval base to be able to see anything of importance is minimal. The fjord that leads to the base is filled with acoustic sensors and mines, but there seems to be very little security in the water right in front of the base. There are also only a few surveillance cameras keeping an eye on the outside of the building, allowing our SEAL team to walk up unnoticed, even giving them time to stop and have a conversation with someone that might be willing to help.

Did you know submarines can turn on a dime? I didn’t either, but in “Hunter Killer” they can! Commander Glass plays chicken with sunken submarines and underwater cliff walls, turning just in time to save his ship and crew. I don’t know anything about the handling capabilities of a submarine, but I don’t think it’s capable of performing tight turns and quick evasive maneuvers as shown in the film.

The unlikely nature of most of the story is offset by a very likable cast and a fast-moving plot. Since most of the characters are never in the same scene at the same time, each group must anchor their parts of the story. If any of the story arcs were populated by someone miscast or just plain annoying, then it would likely have caused the movie to lose its only strength.

Gerard Butler leads a cast of mostly unknown actors playing the submariners in one prong of the story. Butler has the stoic look of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. He makes a honest and heartfelt announcement to the crew before they get underway, telling them he isn’t an Annapolis graduate, but a hard-working sailor that worked his way up the ranks to command the Arkansas. Butler plays the role as a father figure, trying to guide his men without being too hands on. Glass done all their jobs and could probably do some of them better, but he also knows his crew is well trained and prepared for whatever comes their way. They are heading into uncharted waters, so to speak, and failure likely means their deaths and the beginning of World War III. Butler purses his lips in times of quiet stress as many people do. He’s an “every man” trying to make the right decisions to complete his mission and avoid starting a war. Butler is like the perfect TV dad in charge of a warship. I enjoyed his performance.

Another group with their own story is the SEAL team. Toby Stephens plays the tough-as-nails leader of the team. With two veteran SEALs and a rookie that is the focus of much of Lt. Beaman’s ire for his training shortfalls, the team will be disavowed should they be captured. The leave any identifying personal belongings on the plane before they jump into a thunderstorm, something we learned in “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” was a bad idea. Despite the constant ribbing of the rookie, Beaman likes and respects his men and knows they are the best trained and most competent team of commandos in the world. Stephens embodies Beaman, wearing the uniform like a second skin. They may not have been real SEALs but these four guys certainly looked and moved like what I would believe is a SEAL team. I would have liked for the film to show us more of them.

Finally, there’s the bureaucrats in Washington making decisions for the rest of the world. Common is Rear Admiral Fisk, playing the role with a quiet confidence we see him exhibit in most of his acting roles. Linda Cardellini is the NSA senior analyst Jayne Norquist, sharing information and intelligence with Admiral Fisk and working to both find out what’s happening with the Russians and how to deal with the consequences. Norquist is a confident woman, sure of herself and her abilities. Cardellini isn’t given much to do except deliver information to guys in uniform, but she makes the most of her limited screen time. Gary Oldman is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Charles Donnegan, a man that likes to be in charge and is certain of his decisions. Oldman is probably the least served by the script that paints Donnegan as a man afraid of new ideas that quickly falls back on what he’s comfortable with when dealing with a challenge. A scene where Donnegan yells at Fisk when something tragic appears to have happened is a textbook example of scenery chewing from Oldman. The level of histrionics in his performance is almost laughable. I felt a bit bad for Oldman for having to put on such a display.

“Hunter Killer” is rated R for violence and some language. There are some beatings, stabbings and shootings in the film. There are some headshots with accompanying blood splatter. There is also a scene where a sailor is trapped in rising water under a torpedo. Foul language is scattered but includes some instances of the “F-bomb.”

With everything that’s wrong with “Hunter Killer,” I couldn’t help but like the film. The story moves at a quick pace and doesn’t feel like its running time of two hours. There is enough action and peril to keep your mind off the unlikelier aspects of the story. The characters are for the most part likable and, aside from the Russian bad guys, seem to be fairly grounded. All this combined to keep me interested in what would happen next, which characters were going to die and if our heroes could pull off an impossible rescue. In other words, the movie was entertaining, and I can’t ask for much more than that.

“Hunter Killer” gets four stars out of five.

This week I’ll be reviewing “Bohemian Rhapsody” for WIMZ.com.

Other films coming out this week that, if I have time, I may see and review are:

Nobody’s Fool (NSFW)—

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms—

Suspiria—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest in movie, TV and streaming news available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Run All Night”

No matter how good your relationship is with your parents, at some point most people have had a rough patch dealing with the authority figures in your life. Whether it was the length of your hair, your choice of friends, a perceived lack of initiative or ignoring your studies, all of us have had arguments with a mom or dad. My father thought I was lazy and he was right. I preferred watching Saturday morning cartoons and eating a giant bowl of cereal over going out to play or help with the household repairs he always seemed to be doing. While we never had an actual argument our relationship was a bit standoffish until I got my first job while in high school. I believe it was then my father saw I wasn’t lazy, just interested in different things. The fathers and sons featured in this week’s movie “Run All Night” are at different points in their relationships; but ultimately it comes down to the love and protective spirit one man has for his son that leads to a great deal of death.

Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) used to be a feared hit man for mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). Now the man who used to be called Gravedigger is seen as a washed up old drunk who is only kept around because of his long-time ties to Maguire. Maguire’s son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) is looking to expand his role in the family business by working out a deal with the Albanian mob to move heroin into the country. Shawn Maguire turns down the deal but Danny has already accepted money from the Albanians and they want it back. Mike Conlon (Joel Kinnaman) is Jimmy’s estranged son. He knows what his dad did for a living and wants nothing to do with him. Mike has a wife and two little girls with a baby boy on the way. To make ends meet, Mike drives for a limo service and tonight his passengers are the Albanian mobsters who are headed to Danny’s house to get their money. Mike is waiting outside in the limo when he hears shots and sees Danny shoot one of the Albanians in the head. The second one is dead inside Danny’s house. Danny, who knows Mike, yanks him out of the car at gunpoint and plans on killing him but after a brief struggle Mike gets away, leaving his wallet behind in the process. Danny calls his father and explains what happened who then calls Jimmy. Jimmy heads to Mike’s house and tries to talk to him about what to do next by Mike doesn’t want to hear it and tells Jimmy to leave. Meanwhile, Danny sneaks into Mike’s house just as Jimmy leaves. Danny has the gun pointed at Mike but Jimmy, who saw Danny’s car parked outside, shoots and kills him. Jimmy calls Shawn and tells him what happened. Shawn tells Jimmy they are both going to die for killing his son. Jimmy knows Shawn is paying off several cops so they can’t call the police for help. Jimmy convinces Mike to trust him for once in his life to keep him alive and try to fix the situation. Shawn is only out for revenge and brings in high-tech hit man Andrew Price (Common) at double his rate to take out Jimmy and Mike.

Once again, Liam Neeson is playing a man with a certain set of skills in “Run All Night” only this one is more used up than his “Taken” character. Unable to sleep due to the memories of all the people he’s killed, Conlon is a man haunted by all of his past, including leaving Mike and his mother many years earlier. While he did it to protect them, Conlon wishes he could have it all to do over again so maybe he could get it closer to right. Since no one gets a second chance, Jimmy must make the best of the situation. Neeson is spot on in “Run All Night.” His pain and remorse added to what is probably a fair amount of self-pity leads Jimmy to look for relief in a bottle. Neeson knows about pain and loss with the tragic death of his wife Natasha Richardson in 2009. Some of that grief must color his acting in more serious roles. Neeson’s world weary face is more than capable of conveying a sense of hopelessness and defeat. It is also able to turn on a dime to show determination and a fair amount of menace. Neeson has cornered the market in the genre of films featuring a middle-aged man still being able to kick ass and take names. While a few others have done it before (Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis to name two) none has done it better than or as believably as Neeson.

Ed Harris has the kind of intense gaze that would curdle milk. He puts it to good use in “Run All Night.” His Shawn Maguire tells the Albanians that he is a legitimate businessman who has left his gangster days behind. Considering all the armed men around him and his son in a back room counting up thousands of dollars of cash, his statement would appear to be a bit of an exaggeration. Harris is a great actor and is able to easily pull off his somewhat dual role as both a ruthless criminal and a caring friend to Jimmy and father to Danny. Jimmy and Shawn grew up together running the streets of their neighborhood and are as close as brothers. Even though Jimmy isn’t of much use to Shawn, he keeps him around and throws some money his way out of a sense of loyalty and family. Nothing can break that bond except the death of Shawn’s son. It is this event that turns both men into enemies and brings out their dangerous killer instincts. Harris is like a pressure cooker: While he appears calm on the outside, inside there is turmoil, heat and death waiting to burst forth. Harris plays the part to perfection and is able to deliver menace, hate and fear in his performance.

Joel Kinnaman is somewhat disappointing as Mike. His performance is rather one-note. Mike is constantly angry at his father even as he’s risking his life to save him. Kinnaman, who is so good in the former AMC show “The Killing” as a police detective, appears to have his hands tied as far as his performance. Kinnaman plays Mike like a spoiled brat who didn’t get what he wanted for Christmas. While I certainly understand the initial anger at his father, Mike should have come around to at least a begrudging respect for his old man. Unfortunately, every discussion they have about the past is filled with Mike’s anger over Jimmy not being there and his disgust at the things Jimmy has done. Again, some of this is understandable to a point; however, Kinnaman keeps the anger turned up to 11 for far too long. Of course, this is more of a complaint about the script than the actor; but I still thought Kinnaman was probably the weakest character.

A character I’d like to have seen more of is Det. John Harding played by Vincent D’Onofrio. D’Onofrio, who is always interesting to watch, is underutilized in the film. While the movie isn’t about him, Det. Harding does play a pivotal role and is something of an ally to Jimmy despite being on the opposite side of the law. D’Onofrio is an actor that makes you pay attention to his character. His intensity and focus draws in the audience and we hang on his every word. D’Onofrio will play King Pin on the Netflix and Marvel “Daredevil” series. Aside from the stunts, he will probably be the most interesting aspect of that show.

There are a few stylistic things about the movie that both struck my eye and struck a nerve. First, as the film moves from one scene to the next, we are given a graphic depiction of the change of location with Google Earth-like zoom outs and zoom ins of buildings. If you have vertigo or are easily made motion sick, this might trigger an episode. While the first few times were interesting, it quickly began to felt like a visual gimmick that had overstayed its welcome. Also, the movie has a strange fascination with elevated trains. Several scenes start and end on the mass transit system. We also get scene transitions that show the trains moving through the city. Again, this is alright a time or two but after that it seems like the New York transit authority must have paid the movie makers to show off the trains as much as possible. It struck me as a bit odd.

Also troubling is the level of coincidence required to start the plot in motion. The Albanians have to rent a limo that is driven by Jimmy’s son. These same Albanians are doing business with Shawn’s son. Given the number of car services in New York City, the possibility of Mike getting the job seems like a statistical stretch. I’m willing to accept lots of things in movies but this seemed like a step too far.

Of course, a movie like “Run All Night” lives and dies by the action scenes. The movie does a great job of building up tension during a scene like a car chase in downtown New York. There is also the cat and mouse aspect of the police and Common’s hit man searching an apartment building for Jimmy and Mike. “Run All Night” is full of scenes like this and that makes it a very good action movie.

“Run All Night” is rated R for Strong Violence, Language Including Sexual References, and Some Drug Use. There are numerous beatings, shootings, strangulations and stabbings in the film. Nearly all are shown clearly. There are at least two scenes showing a powder being cut with a razorblade and then snorted. The only sexual material is a couple of scenes where a character describes what he would do to another’s wife. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

Liam Neeson could be accused of making the same movie over and over again; however, there are enough differences between the “Taken” films and “Run All Night” to make that latter film unique. It takes a good look at the sacrifices fathers are willing to make for their children. It also shows how the past can come back to life in an instant to make the present difficult to navigate. While it doesn’t invent a new type of movie, “Run All Night” is able to do most of the things it attempts well and creates a world of interesting characters doing interesting things.

“Run All Night” gets four stars out of five.

As always, new films open this week. I’ll see and review at least one of them and you can check out their trailers below:

Divergent Series: Insurgent—

The Gunman—

What We Do In The Shadows—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send questions or comments to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.