Everything that can go wrong, does go wrong in Kevin Macdonald's taut submarine thriller.
- - - - - - - - - - -I have a Scottish friend who works on submarines in the North Sea. He recently told me about a horrifying ordeal his crew faced when a diver's umbilical line to the vessel snapped and the diver began to float into nothingness, like a deep-water version of Gravity. The crew had approximately 60 seconds to follow rehearsed protocols in order to rescue this man before he'd drift out their reach indefinitely. Even then they weren't sure he'd survive the lack of oxygen and pressure build-up he experienced while stranded. Thankfully, my friend's teammate lived. Those aboard Captain Robinson's (Jude Law) submarine in Black Sea aren't all that lucky.
As it turns out, Robinson is also a Scotsman, and he's devoted his entire career to the sea. His marriage crumbled and he's lost touch with his young son because of his dedication to this lonely line of work. Then he suddenly finds himself laid off—with no pension, no ship, and no family to go back to. You could say he's pretty pissed off about it.
One day Robinson's drowning his sorrows in the pub with a few other lifelong seaman who are also out of options. He learns about a World War II U-boat that his previous employer discovered at the bottom of the ocean. It's believed that this ship sank with millions in gold still aboard, but thanks to red tape and territory controls, no one's reached it yet. However, there's a private backer who's willing to fund a secret expedition (for 40% of the loot, of course) if Robinson is able to pull a submarine crew together and sneak in and out with the gold, undetected.
Steal from under his ex-employer's nose, get rich, be able to provide for his estranged family and justify his life's obsession in the process? Robinson is in.
Law is fantastic as the captain with nothing to lose and something to prove. I remember the first time I ever saw him on the big screen in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I couldn't take my eyes off of him then, and I've felt that same way in all of his films since. In Black Sea he always commands attention, even when he's losing control of his crew. (Turns out that when you throw a bunch of known psychopaths together and promise them an equal share of gold, they don't behave.) He can play an asshole but still give you enough glimpses of humanity that you feel vested in his fate. And did I mention his rockin' Scottish brogue?
Aside from Scoot McNairy (as the financial backer's right-hand man, Daniels) and Ben Mendelsohn (freak-show crew member #1, Fraser), the rest of the team is made up of unrecognizable actors, half of whom speak Russian in the film. It helps give a sense of realism, despite the fact that crazy, over-the-top mayhem dominates Black Sea's second half.
Though screenwriter Dennis Kelly tips several characters' hands through their not-so-subtle dialogue early in the mission ("What happens when one of them figures out their share gets bigger when there's less people to share it with?"), Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald (State of Play, Last King of Scotland) is able to sustain an unrelenting, tense atmosphere once the ship descends. I also credit the grimy look of the film and the few breathtaking wide shots of the submarine (both above and below water) by cinematographer Christoper Ross for keeping the audience riveted and in the game.
As Robinson's men grow increasingly barbaric and begin to turn on each other—and Robinson himself lets the lure of gold mess with his head—there aren't many characters left to root for in Black Sea. But by that point you'll be just as committed as the crew is in the hunt for Nazi gold.