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Black Sea – film review

April 2, 2015

BLACK SEA

Gripping submarine thriller refreshingly unpredictable.

Reviewed on Tuesday 31st March 2015

black sea jude law

Directed by Kevin Macdonald. Written by Dennis Kelly. Starring: Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn and David Threlfell. Running time: 115 mins.

When disgruntled Scottish submarine skipper Captain Robinson (Jude Law) is unceremoniously dumped from a British maritime salvage company whom he has been in the service of for over a decade, he and a couple of sacked co-workers decide there must be more to their remaining years than being relegated to the     scrap heap or standing on employment lines or flipping burgers for little pay. With     the financial backing of a mysterious benefactor, Robinson and his friends purchase the rusting hulk of a Cold War-era Russian diesel submarine and assemble a team of experienced Russian and British submariners to mount a salvage expedition to the bottom of the Black Sea in order to recover a fabled fortune in Nazi gold said to be aboard a sunken German U-boat lost since the 1940s.

With this, his follow-up to the excellent young adult adaptation How I Live Now, British director Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void, The Last King of Scotland)     has delivered what is perhaps one of the most terrifically tense suspense thrillers of recent times. And it comes as no surprise Macdonald cites Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear from 1952 and its 1977 remake Sorcerer as inspiration for the film’s central premise: that of desperate men with nothing left to lose embarking on     a treacherous mission which could, if successful, award them a means of escape from unhappy circumstance – or, alternately, a lonely death at the hands of an unforgiving environment. There are also aspects scattered throughout Macdonold’s film which are clearly inspired by moments in undersea survival epics such as The Abyss. The sequence where members of the crew explore the water-filled interior of the Nazi U-boat for example, is very reminiscent of a similar sequence in James Cameron’s 1988 deep sea epic.

The surprise-laden debut screenplay by noted television writer Dennis Kelly (creator of Utopia) provides nicely rounded characters and plenty of twists and turns to maintain interest and a high level of tension without relying too heavily on all the     well-worn conventions usually found in the submarine thriller genre. With the escalation of misunderstanding and tension between the Russian crew members     and their English counterparts – there is also a definite Cold War vibe at play here.

Jude Law (sporting a buzz cut and Aberdeen accent) gives a powerhouse performance as Captain Robinson – a grizzled libertarian, who, wronged by his corporate bosses, yearns to use his share of the bounty as a means of divorcing himself entirely from the system, but whose good intentions increasingly become tainted by his growing animosity towards those who wield power over the little guy;     an animosity which ultimately consumes him; threatening the very survival of his     own equally down-trodden crew. It is only at the end that Robinson comes to realize he has become the very thing he’s been railing against all along.

The remainder of Robinson’s rag-tag ‘dirty dozen’ is peopled with a perfectly-cast ensemble of character actors including several Russians – adding a wonderful sense of authenticity to proceedings. The matter-of-fact levity of the Russians in the face     of adversity is perfectly realized thanks to the performances of Grigory Dobrygin, Sergey Puskepalis, Sergey Veksler, Sergey Kolesnikov and Konstantin Khabenskiy as their leader. And popular Aussie actor Ben Mendelsohn (who seems to be getting a lot of work in high profile international films of late) also has a featured role; playing a psychopathic member of the crew whose erratic behavior triggers a chain of events which spiral out of control threatening the very success of the mission. Ubiquitous Scoot McNairy is the only American in the cast and it’s nice to see him dial back on the eye-rolling lunacy for a change. His character, Daniels, the benefactor’s dubious representative on the expedition (dismissively dubbed ‘The Banker’ by the rest of     the crew) is perhaps the most obviously ‘stock’ character in the film; being clearly modelled on the cowardly and manipulative company man Burke from Aliens.

With the majority of the film taking place almost entirely inside the rusting, oily confines of the creaky Russian sub, the sense of claustrophobia is nicely sustained throughout (being partially shot inside a real 1967 Foxtrot class submarine). And the visual effects depicting the sub exteriors are also top notch and add greatly to the overall verisimilitude of the piece.

With its tight-as-a-drum screenplay and taut direction, Black Sea is a beautifully-paced men-on-a-mission heist movie, impeccably cast and featuring a terrific central performance by Jude Law and will definitely have you clutching the arm rests and yelling at the screen as the tension ratchets up.

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Palace-Nova Eastend Cinemas, Adelaide, March 31st 2015.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

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2 Comments
  1. Dianna Taylor permalink

    Excellent review having seen this film myself.

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