Review: “Black Sea” Won’t Change Your Life But It’s Good At What It Sets Out To Do
Title: Black Sea
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Screenwriter: Dennis Kelly
Principle Cast: Jude Law, Jodie Wittaker, Scoot McNairy, Karl Davies, Mchael Smiley, Daniel Ryan, and Ben Mandelsohn
With the sheer number of movies that get released, there are some that are going to fall through the cracks. I try to stay informed but that can be impossible so every now and then I’ll open up the screening schedule and see a movie that I’ve never heard of. That is basically the reaction I had when I saw a movie called Black Sea sitting on the list. It wasn’t until I took the time to actually look into the movie that I began to get a least a little interested. There was a chance that this wouldn’t be awful despite the release date being in the dead zone. Studios have begun to realize that if you release a good movie at the beginning of the year it can carry you well into the spring. Plus I’ve always liked Jude Law.
Black Sea might not change anyone’s life, but it’s a solid thriller that easily captures the crushing claustrophobia of being in a submarine and what a man is willing to do to prove someone else is wrong.
Captain Robinson (Jude Law) has just been laid off at his job as a submarine captain at his scavenger job. He’s barely getting by when he meets up with a few friends to lament their poor job situation and how everyone seems to think they are so disposable. During this meeting, a friend tells Robinson and Kurston (Daniel Ryan) about a rich man who wants to go searching for a World War II uboat that could be packed with millions of the dollars of gold. Robinson takes the job and puts together a crew. The crew includes a young man, Liam (Karl Davies), that Robinson decides to bring at the last minute when his friend backs out, lawyer Daniels (Scoot McNairy) is forced by their employer to go along, and several other British and Russian sailors. However, when you put a bunch of men together in a small boat with the prospects of millions of dollars at stake things might not go well.
As I said, the movie doesn’t go out of its way to re-invent the wheel, but as comic writer Ed Brubaker once said, “whenever I see a critic complain that some book didn’t reinvent the wheel; I wonder if they realize how effective wheels are.” I think that could be the case for Black Sea because as far as the story goes it’s about generic as you can get. Robinson is separated from his wife and hasn’t seen his son in a long time. He attaches himself emotionally to Liam almost right away to make up for the son that he doesn’t have in his life. There is a guy on the boat with a few screws lose (Ben Mandelsohn), an older man along for the last haul, pretty much every stereotype that you can think of. This is a movie about a submarine so there is a good chance you can figure out something that is going to happen at least once. Oh and, of course, they are in international waters so if they’re caught they could be arrested, and if something does go wrong there isn’t anyone there to help them. We’ve all heard, read, and seen this story a million times over; just change the location and the means of transportation. This sort of thing normally annoys me because there isn’t anything worse than a predictable movie.
However, where Black Sea succeeds is a decent concept of thrills as we go through the various motions. I had a good idea what was going to happen in the end, though there were a few twists that I didn’t see coming. For example, the crew is in a Russian sub so half the crew is Russian. There is a cultural and language barrier that sometimes isn’t present in these types of movies. There is also the fact that director Kevin Macdonald really knows how to ramp up the tension. The set is very well designed and does a great job of capturing how little space there is in the metal tube beneath the ocean. We all know something is going to go wrong during this expedition, but everything still made me cringe as our characters are thrown around the submarine.
Jude Law is really the one that holds this entire enterprise together. There are times when I think people might forget what a great actor Law can be with the right role. Robinson is a great role for him as he keeps giving speeches about showing everyone that they aren’t dirt and we just know those aren’t his words. He cares about Liam in a very fatherly way and he maintains decent control of the men even after everything hits the fan. His character is very much a cliché, but Law plays him so well that I couldn’t take my eyes off of the screen whenever he was on. It takes a lot of talent to stand out so fully like this but Law does it seamlessly. The supporting cast is mostly there to do various jobs around the sub. Ben Mandelsohn does a great job of capturing the crazy eyes as he’s the “slightly unhinged one” and Karl Davies’ Liam has big doe eyes which make him look an innocent as he is supposed to. Jodie Wittaker is practically invisible as Chrissy, Robinson’s ex-wife, and we never meet her outside of flashbacks. She’s supposed to be that way though: a little voice in Robinson’s ear constantly reminding him of his failures.
I’m going to go into very minor spoilers here so if you don’t want to know them, skip this paragraph. However, this spoiler also explains one of the main things that took me out of the movie. I’ll just summarize it pre-spoilers as the motivations of various characters stopped making sense to me at a point. The minor spoiler is that they do find the gold eventually but to bring it with them to the surface comes at quite a price and a large risk. I could mostly understand that to a point, but when Robinson orders his crew to basically do a suicide trek, it stopped making sense to me. Perhaps it’s because I tend to fall on the logical side of the spectrum, but greed as a motivation to continue going at great personal risk tends to get lost on me. I just can’t understand the logic of killing yourself or others in the name of money. I don’t see how it could possibly be worth it so Robinson’s motivation for pushing forward. Greed only works as a motivator to me until a certain point and then it makes me think the characters are idiots. That could be a personal thing though.
Black Sea, at the end of the day, is going to be remembered for the great performance by Jude Law and another strong staple into the filmography of Macdonald. It’s a lot better than a release at the end of January has any right to be. If you like thrillers then this is the movie for you but unless you really want to see a movie this weekend it’ll make a great edition to late night Netflix binges.