Alright, let’s jump right into the new WWII submarine thriller Operation Seawolf which hails from actor/filmmaker Steven Luke who is also an accomplished WWII historian. At first glance, the marketing showcases its action stars in Dolph Lundgren and Frank Grillo (two of my all-time favorite actors on the genre) and as well it should as they are the main reason fans are going to be drawn to this film. If you’re expecting either man to get physical and lay waste to countless, faceless goons like they have in the past then you’ll surely be disappointed. If you know going in that this will be more of a dramatic turn for both actors, which I did, then you might just find a lot to like about this lower budgeted, indie war thriller that comes from Luke who truly loves this era of history.
Let’s start with the plot and while it won’t redefine action cinema, it serves its purpose and that’s, once again, to let Grillo and Lundgren do their thing. It actually is based on a real mission towards the end of the war so even though it doesn’t scream original, it’s ripped from what really went on. Long story short, it is indeed at the end of the war and Hitler is no more and the once mighty German war machine is desperate to kick the Allies in the ass one more time before all is said and done. There are still some Hitler loyalists out there that think this last ditch effort can still win it all but they are few and far between.
The Germans have concocted an idea to send U-Boats to the East Coast of the U.S. and destroy New York City in a hail of torpedoes and missiles. To lead this desperate attempt, they have recruited German officer Hans Kessler (Lundgren) who, just like the war, is on his last legs. Kessler has dealt with a lot in life and he’s basically a drunk now who has lost his faith in his country a long time ago. Kessler is in no way a fan of Hitler, who once again, isn’t even around anymore but he does love his homeland so he begrudgingly takes on the mission to win it.
On the Allied side of things is Commander Race Ingram (Grillo) who has acquired knowledge of the German plan, codenamed Operation Seawolf of course and he’s out to throw the hammer down and save New York and millions of lives. Can I just say that I love Grillo’s name in this. I mean even though his time on film doesn’t require him to kick ass and take names physically here, by god he’s still going to have a name that suggests he will.
In the middle we have Hiram A. Murray who plays Captain Samuel L Gravely Jr. who is assigned by Ingram to lead the tip of the spear and stop the Germans. Murray does an admirable job here as he probably knows that no one has come here to see him because Lundgren and Grillo are in the film. Murray does have the most fun though as he gets to battle it out with Lundgren on the high seas. He also has a strong presence and would probably be well suited to lead his own action project.
So there you have it. We have Lundgren, who is a drunken German officer that audiences will sympathize with even though he is German and Grillo who is contained to a room for the whole running time but still brings it in the gravitas department along with Murray and a bunch of lesser known actors in the middle. Now that’s not a bad thing and even though this is a lower budgeted indie flick, Luke pulls out all he has in his arsenal to make sure viewers will enjoy the action when it hits.
Now there’s going to be those out there that will most likely slam the movie because it’s not on the same level as such iconic Hollywood sub movies like Hunt for Red October and U-571 but if you go in knowing that it’s not those movies, you should have a good time. Here’s why.
First of all, Lundgren and Grillo, even though these are non physical action times for them, still bring it and command the screen when they are present. Lundgren definitely had more to do as he’s on the U-Boat in the thick of things but I was pleasantly surprised that Grillo has the amount of screen time that he did. I was expecting a glorified cameo but he definitely is around for of it then I was expecting. If you’re a fan of these two gentlemen then you will still get what you came for and I applaud them for doing roles that they don’t normally do.
Secondly, the action is done well. From an exciting opening sequence to the furious climax, Luke pulls out all the stops and does the best with what he had at his disposal. The CGI isn’t blockbuster level but it’s still decent and I did like how some of it has a video game feel to it as it gave the set pieces a certain kind of indie swagger. For the budget they had, we still get rad shots of attack planes shooting off chain guns and subs and destroyers doing their thing firing off missiles and torpedoes. Who doesn’t like seeing sea battles and shit blowing up whether it’s a movie that has Disney money or a smaller affair like this one. I’m not one to complain. The budget does show it’s head on occasion as a lot of the action happens off camera but that’s to be expected. It’s just too bad that Luke didn’t have more money as I’m sure there was a lot he wanted to do but just couldn’t.
Third, Operation Seawolf clocks in at around 87 minutes so it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. On one hand it was refreshing that I watched a movie that didn’t test my bladder but on the other hand I felt it could have been longer albeit just by ten more minutes or so with just a tad more additional action heartbeats.
On the negative side of things, the pacing gave me some fits as even though the movie was short, there was still a lot of down time that took away from the tension. I’m all for plot points and such but sometimes it felt like it took a while to get to where it was eventually going.
Also, aside from the main cast, there is some dodgy acting to be had from some of the supporting players. Again, not a deal breaker for me per say but some of my brothers in action will most certainly red flag the movie because everyone on the payroll isn’t an Oscar worthy actor. I’m just nitpicking at this point though as the finale does make up for all of this with some good ol’ fashioned WWII heroics in the air as well as on and under the sea.
The score is another bright spot of the movie which was orchestrated by Alex Kharlamov. The man definitely did his homework when he was training as the soundtrack does have a certain epic scope to it. This movie probably should be seen in a theater as the sound will probably do it more justice then just a TV. It just goes to show you that this movie is proof that big scores can come from smaller pics.
Overall, Operation Seawolf is a WWII thriller made by a man who definitely loves this type of genre. Luke definitely plays to his strengths and pulls out a few tricks to hide the low budget and I hope someone really gives him a budget someday because he’s crazy talented. Lundgren and Grillo are, well Lundgren and Grillo, and they do their thing which should please fans who live to see both stars on film.
The action pieces are ambitious for an indie movie and while, unfortunately, the running time and budget/time constraints hinder the adrenaline, the finale is still what the doctor ordered and should sell the film to its desired audience.
Forgive the negatives, as all movies have them big and small, and know what you’re going to get with Grillo and Lundgren as well as the smaller scale in production then you should find a lot to like about Operation Seawolf. It’s a WWII thriller that hits the right notes when it has too and blows stuff up. What more can you ask for?
Operation Seawolf hits theaters and VOD on October 7th and all Digital platforms October 25th from Shout!Studios and VMI Worldwide