Black Sea – Film Review

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In the new adventure thriller from British director Kevin Macdonald called Black Sea, Jude Law plays a Scottish submarine captain who takes a motley crew of unemployed divers way down into the murky depths of European waters.  They’re the undersea Kelly’s Heroes in search of lost gold said to be buried in a sunken Nazi U-boat, except that the stakes are higher and the men more desperate.

When we first meet Captain Robinson (Jude Law) he’s in the process of being fired by an ocean salvage company.  He’s worked as a submarine captain for 11 years and now he’s no longer needed.  Because he worked without a contract, there’s no severance, but as an act of corporate fairness – at least, that is, fairness from the corporate point of view – he’s given eight thousand pounds (approx. $12,000) as a parting gift.  But he’s angry.  Plus, he’s too young to take it easy; he needs to work.

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It’s while drowning his sorrows down the pub along with some fellow laid-off workers that the captain suddenly hears of a sunken Nazi U-Boat loaded with stolen Russian gold said to be somewhere at the bottom of the Black Sea.  With the help of a genuine mixed bag of unemployed salty sea dogs, some considerably more salty than the others, the captain secures financial backing from a mysterious donor, boards an old rust-bucket of a submarine that has seen much better days, and heads off to the dark waters of Southeastern Europe.

Regarding the gold, the captain has one simple rule: in order to stop any squabbling over who deserves what and how much, everyone on board is to get the same share, regardless of duties.  On the surface, the equal-shares-for-all sounds reasonable enough, but once underneath, it boils the blood of some who feel their role in the salvage is more important than others.  “What happens when the men figure their share is bigger if there’s less to share it with?” asks Daniels (Scoot McNairy in the weasely Paul Reiser role from Aliens).  Daniels is the American banker sent along for the ride by the project’s millionaire donor to keep an eye on things.  His point about men wanting more and what they might do to get it is a valid point, and once it’s made, the idea that everyone will be watching each others’ back while looking for an opportunity to reduce the numbers is always present.

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With the exception of an appearance from Jodie Whittaker in a couple of the captain’s flashback memory sequences, this is an adventure populated by men.  Unemployed Russians work alongside Aussies, Irish, Scottish and English sailors, all speaking in their native brogue and all communicating with the uncompromising sound of thick, regional accents.  When the Russians speak, some conversations are subtitled, others not.  When the English speaking characters talk, nothing is subtitled, but occasionally you might wish it was.  The feeling of authenticity is there, but with the exception of Jude Law’s effective Scottish dialect, softened to the point of being understood by all, there are times when side remarks or even full statements are lost.  This is not altogether a bad thing, however; hearing voices not always understood adds to the claustrophobic tension created by the fights and squabbles of these modern day, undersea pirates.  It makes a frustrating situation more desperate.

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For the most part, Black Sea works.  At a running time of just under two hours, there’s never a moment that lags.  Even if there’s the occasional feeling of having been there before or experiencing an underwater situation that seems perhaps a little overly familiar, there’s something about the in-built tension of angry, distrustful men being huddled together in confined spaces with no view to the outside world that always succeeds in keeping everyone on edge.

Like many films of late, Black Sea still feels a little too long, but with its plot twists and the practically insurmountable problem of trying to get those heavy gold bars to the water’s surface before the crew kill each other, the film has the overall feel of a gritty though well made, conventional underwater thriller with an ending that keeps you guessing right up until the final few seconds.

MPAA Rating:  R   Length:  115 Minutes   Overall Rating:  8 (out of 10)

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