One of Gerard Butler’s better performances is not wasted in an action flick that ticks… some of the the right boxes, and has much more going for it than its generic sounding title may suggest. There is no romantic bullshit to annoy and a palpable sense of tension coats much of the film. It has a fitting though somewhat forgettable soundtrack and subtle cinematography that accurately conveys the feeling of what it must be like in what is once interestingly referred to as an ‘manned, underwater bomb’. We have solid though acting from the rest of the cast (including an amazingly underused Gary Oldman, they really must have needed another big name to put on the poster).
The story isn’t groundbreaking, but a few interesting decisions by Captain Glass (Butler) have some of his crew barking how reckless his actions are. Their submarine is one part of a black ops operation that is being conducted first due to unannounced attacks from Russian submarines. The waters are then muddied when it becomes apparent that this is the result of a coup in Russia staged by a close advisor to their president, Admiral Dmitri Durov (an impressive Michael Gor). The reason for why the coup has been staged isn’t explored, perhaps a better decision rather than giving it a small glance over.
US Brass immediately scramble to avoid starting World War III as the coup has been well-planned: from the perspective of the media and the rest of the world, if WWIII does break out, it will appear that the Americans are at fault. These events lead to a second element of the Americans’ plans to neutralise the situation: a highly skilled four man team are sent to parachute into territory where they do not belong, a fact reinforced by their having to give up all personal and/or identifying objects before jumping.
This double pronged attack of bodies on the ground and submarines underwater (which demand more screen-time and are given it) is handled with finesse as the two strands’ connection is established early. It is never confusing as to what is happening and why, or what the special forces team mission is and how it relates to the submarine’s.
The film also avoids being another in a long line of jingoistic US-made action films, with a plot that is a little more nuanced than most without being convoluted or too clumsy for its own good.
In addition to the tension which lingers over the second half of the film, the action is delivered with accuracy. Each launched missile or torpedo creates a feeling of immediacy regarding whether it will make impact or not. These scenes, including the submarines themselves, all look great. While it isn’t non stop, the bursts of action are satisfyingly executed and visceral, especially one involving a sniper. The capture of a key character from the madman who executed the coup is also a well staged set-piece while avoiding the often irritating trope of ‘the good guys’ not taking a single bullet.
Directed by Donovan Marsh, whose IMDb biography is actually blank, this should establish him as a man who can whip up an action film that isn’t laughable.
It has a brain, and though the scenes in the submarine could have been better (see Black Sea as a superior, modern example of how to execute a film based in a submarine), this is an entertaining action flick.
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