By Gary Murray
Starring Jude Law, Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendlesohn
Written by Dennis Kelly
Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Running time 114 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating Matinee
There is a long history of submarine films. From Run Silent, Run Deep to Das Boot to U-571, most have been war films. Even 20,000 Leagues under the Sea had an element of war in the adventure mix. In the new underwater flick Black Sea, we get the remnants of WWII in a modern treasure hunting adventure.
Captain Robinson (Jude Law) is a Scottish man on the way out with his marine company. He’s been a sailor for 30 years and knows nothing more that the ocean life. This mistress of the deep has taken his wife and family and given him nothing more than a hard job that he loves.
Drinking with some fellow sailors, one mentions that the company they worked for had come across a Nazi U-Boat that is rumored to have in the bellows two tons of Russian gold. Conflicts on the surface have stopped salvage operations and the Black Sea is so cold that the boat should be perfectly preserved
The right men could swoop into the briny and pluck out the metals before any warring side could discover their plan. That is just the idea that intrigues Robinson.
But a plan like this needs some major cash. Robinson meets with a money man who agrees to finance the adventure for a 40% cut. He realizes that it will take a nefarious group of seamen to attempt this scheme. Now, it is a time to assemble the crew and find a vessel.
Since the submarine is of Russian design, half the crew will be Russian and half will be guys that Robinson knows. So, just setting out, there are language and ideology differences within the 12 men. The money man sends along his representative Daniels (Scoot McNairy) to make sure that everything goes as plan. Daniels is a true greenhorn with both the sea-faring life and blue collar workers.
The film is the rescue of the treasure, but that is not the climax. When Robinson tells the crew that they will get equal shares, a rift happens between the Russians and the Scots.
Some of the crew believe that they should get a bigger share of the golden pie and snipping and backbiting eventually turns darker and deadlier. Also, the lure of wealth drives Robinson just a bit deeper down the rabbit hole of greed. All of these elements build to a twist that changes the entire last third of the film.
Black Sea is directed by Kevin Macdonald, the man behind The Last King of Scotland and One Day in September. This film is not up to those works but it does hold up as an adventure yarn. Between the claustrophobic nature of being trapped under water to the basal nature of greed versus survival, the director keeps jumping from beat to beat without ever letting the tension abate. He draws from just about every sub movie to advance his plot.
Jude Law delivers another solid performance as Robinson. While his leading man good-looks seem to be fading, he has developed his character acting skills. Even though there are times when his accent is a bit hard to follow, there is a common man feel to the overall work. We feel that he wants to score the gold to win back his old life more than to be rich.
In the secondary cast, the real find is with Bobby Schofield as Tobin the youngest member of the crew. Tobin becomes the audience’s eyes and ears as we struggle to understand the dangers and complexities of running a submarine with a skeleton crew. No one on board trusts the young man and believe that his presence on board is bad luck. He must prove his worth to the crew just as he proves his worth to the audience.
The special effects are flawless to the point that they are unnoticeable. We believe every moment underwater as if it were actually filmed in the briny, without the use of computers and cinema tricks. The effects are an addition to the story and not the driving force of the work.
For a January release, Black Sea is much better that most. It has action, intrigue and adventure in a confined setting. The overall experience is one that is exciting and believable. In the end, it is a satisfying cinema experience.