Directed by: Kevin Macdonald.
Written by: Dennis Kelly.
Starring: Jude Law (Robinson), Scoot McNairy (Daniels), Ben Mendelsohn (Fraser), David Threlfall (Peters), Bobby Schofield (Tobin), Karl Davies (Liam), Konstantin Khabensky (Blackie), Grigoriy Dobrygin (Morozov), Tobias Menzies (Lewis), Jodie Whittaker (Chrissy), Michael Smiley (Reynolds).
There is so much to like about Black Sea, that it’s disappointing that the movie just never quite comes together to fulfill its potential. The film is well made by director Kevin Macdonald – using the naturally claustrophobic atmosphere of a submarine to great effect. The film tries to be half submarine movie, and half heist movie – with a little more dramatic heft about greed. I think the film was trying very hard to be alike The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) on a submarine. Most of the cast is fine as well. But the film just never quite takes off. There is a lot to like about Black Sea – but not enough.
The film opens with Robinson (Jude Law) losing his job aboard a submarine salvage crew after more than a decade. He’s offered a shitty severance, and isn’t happy about it – nor are many of his friends you get the same spiel. They have an ace up their sleeve though – they know where a German U-boat is – and this U-boat is apparently full of Russia gold. They get a rich man to back them, and then Robinson hires a half British, half Russian crew, and sets out to find it. He makes the mistake of telling them what they are looking for – and informing them that everyone will get an equal share. Almost immediately, some of the men start doing calculations about how much they will receive – and how much more they will get if a few of the others end up dead.
Jude Law has aged into a good actor over the years – more convincing now that he’s taking on more interesting roles than the “pretty boy”, leading roles he got earlier in his career. His Robinson starts out a good man – he just wants what’s fair, and wants to share that with others who have gone through what he has. But over the course of the movie, he grows increasingly desperate and paranoid – wanting more and more to get the gold, even though doing so will risk everyone else on board – and could very well kill them all. Perhaps even better than Law is the ever great Ben Mendelsohn as Fraser – a violent man aboard the boat, who on more than one occasion takes matters into his own hands. Mendelsohn has quickly become of those actors who enlivens everything he is in. A couple of the other actors don’t fair quite so well – with Scoot McNairy playing the one note corporate stooge, and Bobby Schofield playing the “kid”, Robinson feels responsible for. Like Law and Mendelsohn, they are playing caricatures – unlike them, they don’t make them very interesting. None of the Russian characters become memorable at all – in fact, they all bleed together.
Still, one note characters is pretty much par for the course in movies like this. The real problem is that the film just never builds the necessary tension to really take off. The movie is at its best when it doesn’t try to do so much – when it’s focused on the nuts and bolt of trying to survive the various catastrophes aboard the ship, then the film works. When it slows down (or stops altogether) in order to try and become something deeper and more meaningful, the movies loses it way. Movies like this need to move forward constantly – and when they slow down they sink. That’s what happens to Black Sea – which despite how well made it is, and how well acted it is by Law and Mendelsohn, sink under the weight of trying to do too much.