Robinson (Jude Law) is a submarine captain who has devoted his life to his job. When he is unceremoniously fired, he receives word that the location of a legendary Nazi submarine that was carrying several million dollars in gold when it sank, has been found. Robinson is hired to round up a crew and salvage the gold for a cut of the money, but the company that hired him may have different ideas.
Director Kevin Macdonald has proven time and again that he is a force to be reckoned with. No matter what he turns his hand to, his films are always thrilling and gripping, and Black Sea is no exception.
Sporting a rather chewy accent, Jude Law plays the captain of the submarine, and thus the leader of a band of misfits whose work in submarines has dried up. Law plays Robinson as a reasonable man, so when the situation on the sub starts to change, the audience looks to him for tone and sanity. Law does well with the role, and becomes the heart and soul of the film. Scoot McNairy takes on the role of the manipulator, and creates many of the twists and turns by whispering in peoples’ ears. Ben Mendelsohn plays another unreasonable but engaging character, and Michael Smiley brings a lot of humour to the incredibly tense proceedings.
The script, written by Dennis Kelly, feels as though it could have been made as Indiana Jones 5: The Search for Nazi Treasure. The rumour of the occult being a fascination in the Third Reich is never explicitly mentioned, but the idea that this treasure is cursed is a thread that runs through the entire film. The dialogue is smart and the characters are rounded enough that we know and understand who they are. The Russian cast members suffer a little due to the English language actors being given more prominence, but they are still integral to the story and the film as a whole. Kelly seems to have run with the idea that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, but manages to keep the audience on the characters’ side through clever development and insights into their lives.
Kevin Macdonald has created a film that runs with tension. As soon as the submarine dips below the surface of the Black Sea, the tension is raised, and keeps going up from there. The film lives and dies with the relationships between the characters and, although they are not always fleshed out, there is enough of a bond formed on screen to keep the audience gripped and under the sea with the cast. The Nazi gold is lovely touch as well, giving the film an air of the occult, without ever needing it to be explicitly said. That said, there are times when the teeth gritting tension becomes almost unbearable, and any reprieve feels like set up for another disaster. This gets stressful and tiring at times, and a moment’s relief would have done wonders for the film.
In all, however, Black Sea is a gripping, thrilling and incredibly well made film. Led by an impressive and unglamorous performance from Jude Law, the cast have the audience immediately on their side and they work incredibly well together. Macdonald’s direction keeps the feel of claustrophobia and tension rising and rising, and although a moment’s breathing room would perhaps have made the film more bearable, this is a film where the audience is in the thick of the action with the characters; a rare and often terrifying thing.