Black Sea (2014)

Review #1,138

Director:  Kevin Macdonald
Cast:  Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn
Plot:  In order to make good with his former employers, a submarine captain takes a job with a shadowy backer to search the depths of the Black Sea for a submarine rumored to be loaded with gold.

Genre:  Adventure / Thriller
Awards:  -
Runtime:  114min
Rating:  NC16 (cut!) for language throughout, some graphic images and violence

There's no place like home – it is cold and dark.  There are only two ways to die – you drown or you are crushed. 

Black Sea is terrifying in that regard, but there are more terrifying pictures out there.  Wolfgang Petersen's superlative masterpiece Das Boot (1981) comes to mind, the definitive submarine movie if there ever was any.  Another underwater movie that comes to mind is James Cameron's one-of-a-kind sci-fi mystery The Abyss (1989), one of the more under-appreciated gems of the genre. 

In light of some (better) films that came before Black Sea, it is fair to say that this is in a lower league.  It has few surprises in stored, and despite having an old-school charm and a Cold War-esque flavour, it is only compelling in bits and pieces.

Starring Jude Law (gosh, I haven't seen him on the big screen for a long time) in a decent performance as the de facto civilian captain of an old, creaky Russian submarine, the film is about a secret mission to possess million dollars worth of gold bars hidden in a (sea)bedridden Nazi submarine somewhere near Russian waters. 

Sounds like a far-fetched concept?  But director Kevin Macdonald puts us in the right frame of mind with a montage of WWII footage in the prologue.  As far as Black Sea is concerned, it is reasonably taut and suspenseful. 

Macdonald, who has had tremendous experience in documentary filmmaking (One Day in September, 1999; Touching the Void, 2003; Marley, 2012), and also did a few features, not least The Last King of Scotland (2006) and the underrated State of Play (2009), tries his best to milk as much drama and tension from the occasionally middling screenplay.

There is a kind of them (the Russians) versus us conflict that runs throughout the film, hence the Cold War flavour.  The dark irony is that the Russian crew are playing a dangerous game of hide-and-seek with their authorities. 

Ultimately, Black Sea is a movie about greed, and exorcising the ghosts of greed.  Greed and prejudice lead men to act violently, and it's painful (in more ways than one) to see that unfold on screen.  In sum, you will not be enthralled thoroughly, but at the very least, it is a moderately satisfying genre picture. 

Verdict:  An old-school submarine movie with the requisite suspense, but with few surprises in this moderately satisfying genre picture. 


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