Black Sea, 2014.
Directed by Kevin MacDonald.
Starring Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, David Threlfall, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Jodie Whittaker, Sergey Veksler, Karl Davies and Michael Smiley.
Let go by the company he’s worked for, for 30 years, Submarine Pilot Robinson (Jude Law) assembles a crew and goes on the hunt for Nazi gold worth $40 million.
It’s a tough task to set a film almost entirely on a submarine and keep the tension going, but that’s exactly what Kevin MacDonald does in the wonderful Black Sea. After being made redundant by the company he’s worked for since leaving the Navy, an overhill the Captain Robinson (Jude Law) hears of a mysterious U-Boat at the bottom of the Black Sea that is filled with Nazi gold. After a quick set up of the plot, the team comprised of English and Russian sailors as well as Aussie diver Fraser played by Ben Mendelsohn are off on their adventure to the depths of the ocean. Screenwriter David Kelly doesn’t waste time by setting up each character, this film is about the mission and it’s a tense ride.
Submarine thrillers are claustrophobic by nature, but Black Sea takes it to a whole new level. The submarine is ancient and rusting and the opposing nationalities of the crew start to turn on each other almost immediately. Although the sudden explosion of violence that occurs may not seem as if it could happen in real life, it jolts the viewer into realising that this is a much darker story than they first thought. MacDonald ramps up the tension with each second. Every sound that comes from the ailing engine or the wheezing of one of the crew keeps you on edge. In the absence of visual sonar, it falls to one of the Russian men Baba (Sergey Veksler) to listen to the sounds of the ocean and pin point their location. In these moments we have shots of darkness, the ticking of a stopwatch and the look on Baba’s face as we wait for the inevitable crash. This is tension film making at its best, and it makes Black Sea one of the greatest submarine thrillers in a long time.
Screenwriter Kelly has also created a clear commentary on the state of industry in the UK. The English crew are comprised of men who have dedicated their lives to working for “The Man”, who have trained in one specific craft only to be tossed aside once new technology took over. There is a bitterness amongst the men that resonates clearly in today’s society of frustration over industry. The point is never over laboured but it is apparent throughout the film. The need for the gold is almost secondary to the need to beat the people who ruined their lives.
The performances throughout are solid, and Law does a good job of playing the disgruntled Robinson. Initially his non-descript Scottish accent is jarring, but I think this is perhaps just because Law’s own voice is so instantly recognisable, that hearing this brash Scottish accent come out is almost an affront. He is supported by a superb cast including Scoot McNairy who shows a villainous and manipulative side that we’ve not seen before. Ben Mendelsohn continues to be the go to actor for slightly crazed characters – in this film his character Fraser is referred to as a psychopath right from the off. However, he brings so many levels to the role that you gravitate towards him whenever he’s on screen.
The script is far from perfect. There are clichés throughout including a Robinson taking a young kid under his wing (Bobby Schofield), a pregnant girlfriend back home, estranged marriages, suicide are all packed in there. Although this does make the film feel a little cheesy in places (a moment at the end led to a pretty giant plot hole for me), it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the film. Black Sea is an edge of your seat film and it’s beautifully shot and put together. It’s unnerving and thrilling in equal measures.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Helen Murdoch is a freelance writer – Follow me on Twitter