The great thing about submarine films is that they usually evoke a strong sense of tension (Das Boot, The Hunt for Red October), mostly motivated by claustrophobia and/or paranoia. The setting is so tight that those onboard may begin to lose it, unravel, and the results can be pretty gripping. The new thriller Black Sea is a perfect example of this and with a brilliant cast led by charismatic leading man Jude Law plus expert direction from Academy Award-winning director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, One Day in September), it is a film that will definitely leave a profound impact on audiences. It’s just a fun film and almost everything about it clicks.
Former Navy man Robinson (Law) has just been fired from his 11-year post as a wreckage-salvager. He soon learns of an old sunken U-boat in the Black Sea which contains a significant amount of gold. A shady businessman then tasks Robinson to put together a ragtag group of English and Russian crew members to pilot a submarine to retrieve the gold. During this mission however, tensions rise as claustrophobia, greed, and paranoia eventually set in. It is then up to Robinson and this group of random individuals to survive not only the confines of a rickety old submarine but each other as they all have different agendas.
Black Sea is an old-fashioned submarine adventure with heavy doses of thriller/action thrown in. Director Macdonald has crafted a very taut film here and his shots and lighting all convey strong tension. Since the actors are supposed to be on a sub, each shot feels like they are in very tight quarters. The lighting is also dim but colorful only during action sequences. With both of these technical aspects contributing to the picture’s ominous mood, the film certainly benefits and will certainly please adventure-seeking audiences.
Jude Law is absolutely phenomenal here. With a convincing Scottish accent and a beefed up physique, the talented actor has transformed himself into a burly submarine commander brilliantly. With the limited space on set and many scenes involving heavy amounts of water, Law handles each situation beautifully and the strong emotions displayed on his face provide for one of the actor’s most nuanced performances. Flashbacks give a glimpse into Robinson’s past and even though his life on land is secondary to the story, these moments do provide for a delightfully complex subplot. Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn also provide excellent supporting roles which only serve to enhance the film.
As far as submarine films go, Black Sea is pretty solid. It is a strong thriller and it is fun in many instances. The adventure aspect is there and the performances are quite effective as is Macdonald’s careful direction. The only minus would probably be playwright Dennis Kelly’s script which is a bit week and formulaic. Having come from a theater background, perhaps he didn’t know how to transfer his words to screen as effectively as possible. Nevertheless, this is a minor con in film filled with plenty of pros. So far, 2015 is starting out a bit weak in terms of film but Black Sea is an enjoyable entry in the submarine thriller category.