Film Review – Black Sea
Director Kevin Macdonald certainly does not keep to a certain genre of film. He is known for documentaries and dramas, his most famous being The Last King of Scotland. Macdonald ventures into the likes of other submarine set drama films with Black Sea.
Black Sea begins with Scottish submarine captain Robinson (Jude Law) losing his job of over 11 years with a salvage company. His job in the past has cost him his wife and a relationship with his son. Finding himself with no job, he goes to the pub with two friends and finds out that there is a sunken U-boat from World War II sitting on the bottom of the sea. Seeing an opportunity to return to his passion and cash in big, he gets a mysterious investor (Tobias Menzies) to give him the opportunity to put together a team to make this happen. With Daniels (Scoot McNairy), an American there to keep his boss’ investment in check, they find an old sub of Russian origin to use. The additional men for this gold-seeking mission is part Russian with Blackie (Konstantin Khabenskiy), Morozov (Grigory Dobrygin), Baba (Sergey Veksler), Levchenko (Sergey Kolesnikov), and Zaytsev (Sergey Puskepalis). The rest of the team are from the U.K. with Fraser (Ben Mendelsohn), Peters (David Threlfall), Reynolds (Michael Smiley), and Tobin (Bobby Schofield). They set off in a rusty sub in off-limits foreign waters to seek out a treasure that may make them all rich.
It is inevitable when this many men go into a submarine with money on their mind, some are not coming out alive. It does not take long for the promise of money to go to their heads and betrayal to rear its ugly head. To make matters worse, there is a language barrier between half of the crew. But this is what makes a film in a closed environment with no escape so good. It is at its essence a psychological thriller. Men are pitted against each other, but they cannot succeed at their end goal without everyone. There are only so many mechanics, divers, drivers, and sonar techs in the small team. They must grin and bear it, but some just like to pick away at the flaws for fun. The threat of death is all around them, not just from each other, but from the crushing weight of water that surrounds them.
Black Sea does set itself apart from other submarine dramas. For once, the Russians are not the enemies or the villians. It is really refreshing to see them as part of a team, albeit a dysfunctional one. The film also is the submarine against no one but themselves. There is the threat of discovery by ships and other subs as this is not a sanctioned expedition, but they are not at war with anyone. There are also changes in character that are unexpected with the most intriguing being that of Robinson, Fraser, and Morozov. During the film, I repeatedly wanted to reach out and strangle Fraser, but he does have some redeeming qualities. The tough one is not always so tough and the quiet one can find his strength.
January is often seen as a month where bad films go to die. Black Sea is not one of those films. This is a genuine thriller with a great cast that makes it worth seeing. It has the great twists and turns to keep you guessing on the outcome and the characters’ fates. I guarantee you will find yourself contemplating dying in a sub while sitting in that dark theatre. What about those in the audience with claustrophobia? That’s just an added bonus to the experience of Black Sea.
Also, be sure to check out our interview with director Kevin Macdonald.