This movie is not based on the Brad Taylor novel of the same name, about a special ops team. It is based on Firing Point, a novel written by Don Keith and George Wallace. Although, just to confuse things, Firing Point was reissued when the movie came out, renamed Hunter Killer.
As the movie begins, the USS Tampa Bay – a hunter-killer class submarine – is stalking a Russian sub in the Barents Sea when the target sub suffers an explosion! Minutes later, someone fires torpedoes at Tampa Bay…
At a Department of Defense command center, Rear Admiral John Fisk (played by musician-turned-actor Common) orders the nearest hunter-killer sub (USS Arkansas) to investigate the missing Tampa Bay, under new commander Joe Glass (Gerard Butler). At the request of the intelligence services, Fisk also orders a SEAL team to infiltrate a Russian naval base.
It is soon revealed that a coup is underway against the Russian president, led by a rogue minister of defense/admiral who wants a naval war for his own political purposes. Can the SEALS extricate the Russian president? Can the USS Arkansas enter the Russian naval base to take the Russian president to safety?
The movie quickly evolves into three-stories-in-one: The USS Arkansas as it investigates the loss of Tampa Bay (using the mini-sub Mystic), then must penetrate Russian defenses to reach the naval base where the Russian president is being held; the four SEALs as they penetrate the Russian naval base; and the U.S. command center where vital decisions must be made.
Key figures include the excitable CJCS Charles Donnegan (played by Gary Oldman) and intelligence adviser Jayne Norquist (Linda Cardellini); excitable Arkansas XO Brian Edwards (Carter MacIntyre); SEAL team leader Bill Beaman (Toby Stephens); Russian submarine commander Captain Andropov (Michael Nyqvist in his final role), and rogue Admiral Durov (Michael Gor).
The film strives to get the details right, with cooperation from the US Navy. The submarine sets were constructed so that they could be pivoted to reflect movement of the ship.
The movie flows rapidly along; there really are no slow moments. The plot provides a constant level of suspense, as Captain Glass faces a series of difficult decisions.
All of the actors performed well (yes, Oldman gets a bit hyper, but that's the way the character is written). I was particularly impressed by Common and Cardellini.
One problem with the movie is that its fast pace precludes exposition. It seems as though the USS Arkansas reaches the Barents Sea instantly, and that Navy SEALs have the capacity to parachute next-door to a Russian naval base without being detected. I also thought two scenes were badly scripted and came out weak: Captain Glass' "I'm one of you" address to his new crew, and his "we're brothers" talk with a Russian sub commander.
There's one scene which features a female American president. That's because they expected Hillary Clinton to win the election; when she lost, they decided not to change the script.
This movie was a flop when released, but I enjoyed seeing all of the naval tech. It's not Hunt for Red October, but it's fun, with better special effects and more accuracy.