2014 / Director. Kevin Macdonald.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
I love a good submarine thriller. There have been plenty of them over the years, most of which are glossy Hollywood flicks. The bench mark for the genre, of course, is Wolfgang Petersen's DAS BOOT and almost every sub movie since has derived from it in one way or another. Yet few of them have matched the claustrophobic and gritty atmosphere of it... until now... well, almost. Kevin Macdonald's new film BLACK SEA is the closest I've seen a movie get and it presents a dank, rusty and foreboding ambience. The film plays out like a maritime version of THREE KINGS as a group of retrenched mariners set out on a subaquatic treasure hunt in search of a sunken German u-boat, which is rumoured to be loaded with gold at the bottom of the Black Sea. In order to reach it they must evade Russian surface fleets and avoid all radio contact. To add further risk they need to do so in an old, decrepit sub that has long been out of commission. The crew is lead by a Scottish captain played by Jude Law who has been made redundant following 15 years of service. His crew is compressed of twelve men, 6 of which are Russian. Communication between the cultures is minimal and only a basic level of understanding keeps the relations volatile. The film immediately struck me as hard-edged and aberrant of the genre's standards. The story's set up is shot with a low-key indie sensibility with thick Scottish accents that barely scape through without the need for subtitles. Straight away BLACK SEA feels like a hard-edged and audacious film. Unfortunately the moment the story submerges into the ocean it falls back on typical cliches and stereotypes. Every character is contrived and most of the plot-points are deliberate set-ups to facilitate the next. I honestly didn't mind that the film relied on conventions but I was disheartened that it played it safe. All of the performances are good. Jude Law commands the screen with a solid, albeit comfortable turn and Ben Mendelsohn is excellent as the borderline psychotic Aussie. Kevin Macdonald has captured the mood well and delivers a technically excellent film. It's a shame that he didn't place as much emphasis on the story, which prevents BLACK SEA from reaching the excellence of his previous films. As it is, BLACK SEA amounts to as much as a decent Hollywood thriller without the gloss.