Review: ‘Hostile Waters’

Taut, tense submarine thriller delivers a compelling package: The script subtly --- too subtly, sometimes --- limns the brave men who man nuclear subs, but it's the crisis that's the real star here.

Taut, tense submarine thriller delivers a compelling package: The script subtly — too subtly, sometimes — limns the brave men who man nuclear subs, but it’s the crisis that’s the real star here.

It’s 1986, days before the Ronald Reagan-Mikhail Gorbachev Iceland summit, and a Soviet nuclear sub silently swims through the western Atlantic, 500 miles off the coast of Bermuda. Meanwhile, the American Aurora, also a very large, very dangerous submarine, spots it. The Soviet captain, Igor Britanov (Rutger Hauer), orders an evasive move, which clouds the sonar that each sub “sees” with, and disaster strikes: The subs collide.

The Aurora stands down, listening through radar to the Soviet situation like a cat. The Soviets are in deep trouble, with ruptured fuel lines that have compromised the integrity of the nukes on board.

Resolution of the situation plays up the tension inherent in a submarine, the game of chess being played on the surface between Washington bureaucrats and military factions, and the fact that Britanov merely wants to get his men out of there alive, and not nuke the Eastern seaboard.

Scripter Troy Kennedy Martin has crafted a tight story based on research by Bill Cran, Tom Mangold and Peter Huchthausen, a former U.S. naval attache based in Moscow. Huchthausen — who originally heard of the incident — and Cran had meticulously interviewed the Russian principals involved, and Mangold grilled the American officials (the Navy won’t comment on the record about the incident), thus grounding the telepic in a chilling reality.

Martin’s script, though, fails to compel on a human level, and the characters are simplistically drawn, which, for this genre, is not necessarily a bad thing. Hauer’s perf, though, relays the pressure of being in command of a submarine loaded with nuclear warheads.

Director David Drury keeps the pace snappy, ably conveying the terror of a crisis in a claustrophobic atmosphere.

Tech credits are tops, with Jon Bunker’s production design and Anne Hoffman’s costumes authentically conveying the difference between the haves (the pristine U.S. Navy sub and mariners) and have-nots (the dirty, scrappy Soviets).

Hostile Waters

HBO; Sat. July 26, 9 p.m.


Filmed at Pinewood Studios, London, and Studio Babelsberg, Potsdam, Germany, by World Prods., in association with InVision Prods. Ltd., UFA Filmproduktion, UFA Babelsberg and Flach Film Paris, for HBO NYC Prods. and the BBC. Executive producers, David M. Thompson, Konstantin Thoeren, William Cran, Stephanie Tepper; producer, Tony Garnett; director, David Drury; writer, Troy Kennedy Martin; based on research by Cran, Peter Huchthausen, Tom Mangold


Rutger Hauer, Max von Sydow, Martin Sheen, Richard Graham, Rob Campbell, Colm Feore, Rob Campbell, Harris Yulin, Regina Taylor, John Rothman, Michael Attwell, Dominic Monaghan, Peter Guinness, James E. Kerr, Alexis Denisof, Oliver Marlo.
Camera, Alec Curtis; editor, Ian Farr; production design, Jon Bunker; costumes, Anne Hoffman; sound, Derek Norman; music, David Ferguson; casting, Mary Colquhoun (U.S.), Sarah Bird (U.K.). 2 HOURS.
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