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British Film Review: Black Sea
Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Jude Law has bulked up, shaved his head and aquired a (debatable) Aberdeen accent to play Captain Robinson (as in Crusoe), a grizzled, life-long submariner. He has given his life to his work, in the process losing his wife and family, yet Black Sea starts with his reward for his loyalty being a redundancy interview and a paltry pay-off for his long service. Commiserating in the pub with similarly laid-off mates, he hears of someone “who needs a man like you”. This leads him to a mysterious job offer from a slippery American middleman (Scoot McNairy) on behalf of a mysterious millionaire (Tobias Menzies), with the lure of a share in $20 million if he can use his expertise to captain a sub he has chartered, and recover a hoard of Nazi gold from a sunken submarine in deepsea waters in the Black Sea.
Robinson assembles a crew of rough-looking, down-on-their-luck veterans – and a condition of the deal is that other half of the crew is Russian. They pick up a rusty old tub of a sub in Sevastopol Harbour and off they go, trying to stay hidden from Russian navy radar. Robinson orders that each crew member will receive an equal share of the booty. This immediately causes simmering animosity between Brits and Russians, hostility between them being due to perceived unfairness in this supposedly fair arrangement. The Brits think that the same amount of money would be worth far more in Russia than in Britain, so they will effectively gain more. The crew live in very close quarters in an antiquated tin can that’s losing its vital functions one by one. Aggression and feuds flare. When psychopathic Brit Fraser (Ben Mendelsohn) kills the Russian interpreter, communication between the two sides becomes near impossible and any attempts at collaboration cease bloodily. Their mission starts to look doomed.
In many ways, the film has a lot going for it. Jude Law gives a strong performance against type, part leader, part maverick and notably kicking against a system that doesn’t value him – or any working man. Taking on this ill-fated commission is his way of fighting back against it and getting the cash he feels he deserves. It has some tense action sequences. But the screenplay, by Dennis Kelly, whose Utopia on Channel 4 was compelling viewing, is rather disappointing. The action does occasional jumps in time without explanation, the dialogue is obvious and the characters don’t develop. Each of the men is given a single character trait, or a different regional accent: they are plot-serving jigsaw pieces and we never find out anything about their life outside as in movies such as Das Boot. Apart from Robinson and two others – one British and one Russian – all are motivated by greed, though David Threlfall and Ben Mendelsohn stand out. The claustrophobic atmosphere inside the dark, filthy sub is well conveyed (it was filmed on a real disused sub in the Medway) and it seems fairly low budget. There are a few scenes that effectively create tension, a second murder, and a couple of surprising double crosses and plot twists – but also some gaping plot holes. Whenever the narrative seems in danger of flagging, it is interspersed with explosions, and the fires and deaths that result from them, as each new disaster destrosys a bit more of the sub. The more Robinson and the men use their ingenuity to compensate for the destruction, the further they get from either recovering the gold or ever reaching the surface.
There is more than enough in Black Sea to keep fans of action movies happy– so long as they don’t expect it to go too deep.
Black Sea is in UK cinemas from 5 December 2014
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