Review: Hunter Killer is a Tom Clancy knockoff with an overqualified cast

Donovan Marsh brings very little to this meat-and-potatoes, brink-of-war thriller that lacks a Jack Ryan figure to humanize it all

HUNTER KILLER (Donovan Marsh). 121 minutes. Opens Friday (October 26). See listing. Rating: NNN

Be the Tom Clancy movie you want to see in the world.

That’s the maxim under which the makers of Hunter Killer are operating, anyway, getting as close to the late author’s territory as legally possible to deliver a meat-and-potatoes, brink-of-war thriller filled with noble men in uniforms facing off against the machinations of a scheming villain while various intelligence professionals stand around and argue about what to do next.

Is it 1991 or 2018? Under the ice caps, it’s impossible to tell. All we know for sure is that a woman (Caroline Goodall) is the president of the United States and the Russian leader (Alexander Diachenko) is a decent human being, so this is definitely taking place in an alternate universe – and one where an American sub crew’s rescue mission in the Arctic Circle has landed them smack in the middle of an attempt to unseat the president of Russia.

Adapting a novel by George Wallace and Don Keith, screenwriters Arne L. Schmidt and Jamie Moss seem determined to rip off as much of The Hunt For Red October as possible. But director Donovan Marsh (Avenged) is no John McTiernan and brings little style to the action sequences and even less of a signature to the many, many scenes in which the overqualified and very clenched actors – among them Gerard Butler, Common, Toby Stephens, Linda Cardellini, Gary Oldman (who shot this well before winning that Oscar for Darkest Hour) and the late Michael Nyqvist – debate what constitutes a hostile action if someone doesn’t know with whom they’re supposed to be at war. 

The constant agitation and bone-deep respect for all things military is straight out of Clancy’s playbook, but there’s no Jack Ryan figure to humanize it all. Everyone is a career professional, fulfilling duties with crisp competence or – in the case of Butler’s seen-some-shit sub commander Joe Glass – risking court-martial to act with honour in a tense situation. 

There’s very little to hold on to. For the most part, we just watch a lot of gears grind as Trevor Morris’s score works overtime to make us feel something.

Me, I felt like I wouldn’t mind watching The Hunt For Red October again. | @normwilner

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