Dir: Kevin Macdonald
Starring: Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, David Threlfall, Tobias Menzies, Michael Smiley, Karl Davies, Daniel Ryan, Konstantin Khabenskiy, Bobby Schofield, and Grigoriy Dobrygin
By Monte Yazzie
Many films have found success by putting a group of people in a confining space and letting human nature take its strange course. Place variables like an alien trying to get into a barricaded room, the decision lingering for a jury of clashing personalities, or the quest for gold at the bottom of the ocean inside the belly of a claustrophobic submarine and you have the makings of good storytelling. That finishing submarine scenario is the subject of Kevin Macdonald’s underwater thriller “Black Sea”, a film that succeeds in building suspense and remaining exciting even though it becomes a familiar and predictable story.
A recently laid off submarine captain named Robinson (Jude Law) comes across valuable information concerning a German U-boat that was lost in the depths of the Black Sea and contains a life-changing amount of gold Russia paid Germany during World War II. Robinson is angry with the company that he loyally served, a job that kept him away from his family and created a rift in his marriage that ultimately led to a divorce. Robinson dreams of better times with his family but only awakens to unhappiness; this leads him to an American financer who endorses the voyage to the depths in a corroding submarine with a group of men equally as discontent.
Greed and desperation are two themes that Macdonald utilizes effectively. At the core of this story is simply a group of men trapped in a submarine, a vessel filled with hopefulness that quickly turns into a container of deteriorating life support. Robinson lets the men know from the beginning that the treasures will be split equally, it doesn’t take long for the men to realize that less people means more money and greed takes over. This leads to disaster for the submarine then desperation for the men and their lives, but also their fortune that is within grasp. On board the submarine is a diverse crew of Russian and British men, a device cleverly used by Macdonald to instantly draw the lines of allegiances between the groups. Add into the mix the role of an American broker named Daniels (Scoot McNairy) and a young homeless teenager named Tobin (Bobby Schofield) and the narrative becomes prime with character motivations. Unfortunately these characters all fall into easily identified categories that make decisions that become overly predictable. While this isn’t always a bad thing, especially in a film like this, it does make the holes in the narrative seem even larger. The decision to limit the transitions between underwater scenes that display a moving submarine and the interior confinements of a submarine creates great claustrophobic atmosphere, though in parts it also restricts the space inside the submarine making the movements throughout seem somewhat confusing.
Jude Law is excellent here, changing Captain Robinson emotionally throughout the journey. He begins as the levelheaded leader and moves into an obsessed tyrant with ease. The remaining cast is also good even though they are unsurprising and familiar characters, however the performances keep together the loose ends that periodically snag the viewer out of the film.
“Black Sea” is one of those films that pleasingly occupies time for an impromptu movie decision. While there is nothing terribly wrong with this film, there is also not much that is especially memorable either. Amongst the weekly barrage of new releases at the movie theater, it’s still nice to have something that is purely and simply entertaining.
3.25 out of 5.00