Review: Black Sea
PLOT: After finding himself out of work, a submarine captain is asked to take a dangerous journey into the Black Sea in search of a lost Nazi U-Boat loaded with gold.
In the new feature film from Kevin Macdonald (THE EAGLE, HOW I LIVE NOW, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND), the subject of greed and mistrust is explored as a compelling and oftentimes intense undersea adventure. Leading the cast is Jude Law - complete with an Aberdeen accent - as a recently discharged submarine captain given a daring job of collecting a hefty sum in gold deep down upon the ocean floor. Along for this dangerous mission are a variety of men, all struggling to make ends meet. This treasure hunt/heist tale has the flavor of MUTANY ON THE BOUNTY as well as THE TREASURE OF SIERRE MADRE, and at times it is a pretty damn thrilling flick.
When a massive company lay off forces a number of men out of work - including Captain Robinson (Law), a man who has spent most of his life at the helm of submarine exploration - they find themselves struggling financially. When a shady businessman offers them a very lucrative deal, to not only search for missing Nazi gold, but also make amends with their former company, Robinson agrees. He and a Russian and British crew including such actors as Ben Mendelsohn, Michael Smiley and Tobias Menzies as well as a representative from the company (played by Scoot McNairy) all find themselves in an old submarine searching the depths of the Black Sea for this missing treasure.
What makes BLACK SEA unique is hardly its special effects, nor Laws over-the-top dialect. It is the clever way of making a heist film feel fresh. In a crammed submarine, the level of claustrophobia and desperation among the crew is incredibly well-played. With a slow start, we soon find the language barrier between the men causing chaos, as well as a heavy dose of greed setting up for some questionable choices made by everybody involved. This very human, and at times frightening, display of the evil that men do creates an impressive level of tension that builds to a satisfying final act. While not overtly violent or bloody, there is a pressure cooker intensity, one that makes for an exciting couple of hours.
It may be easy to poke a little fun at Jude Laws accent, but the actor still commands the screen appropriately. He is a very talented performer and he manages to give Robinson depth, even if he occasionally sounds like Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons. In fact, when he is facing down and trying to retain order on the mission, you believe that he can take charge when necessary. The rest of the cast is also quite good, especially McNairy who manages to play the untrustworthy corporate shill to perfection. As well, the rest of the actors manage to create impressively believable characters who begin to turn on each other as well as their captain. Smiley is especially great here opposite Law as one of the more amiable passengers.
As this death defying mission takes off, the first time the submarine submerges into the deep dark ocean, there is a sense of awe and dread. Yet, once it goes down, the effects are not at all convincing. However, Macdonald ably moves aboard the claustrophobic set with ease which is not an easy feat. Keeping the dialogue heavy sequence of events afloat is a challenge which screenwriter Dennis Kelly and Macdonald are able to take on. There are certainly moments of cliched animosity and behavior, yet the filmmakers and the actors make it all flow quite nicely. This is a dread filled feature with not a ton of humor or any break from the bleak atmosphere, yet once these characters are forced together, it commands your attention.
BLACK SEA works on a very basic dramatic level. The tension that builds deep in the ocean depth is very palatable, and thankfully it is because of the characters and the actors taking them on. What it lacks in visual spectacle is made up for in story and performance. By taking this undersea adventure and focusing on mans greed and lust for power, Macdonald has crafted a suspenseful deep sea tale. It may be a tad predictable, with a bit of a slow start, yet it is a worthy effort from the director giving the modern heist movie a bit of a twist.
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