Cinema Review | Black Sea

Written by: Dennis Kelly

Directed by: Kevin Macdonald

Cast: Jude Law. Scoot McNairy. Karl Davies. Konstantin Khabensky. Ben Mendelsohn.

This British submarine drama….not a phrase I get to write often. This British submarine drama shows us a group of desperate men at the end of their rope (accidental nautical pun) try to beat the system and give it to the man! We follow submarine captain Robinson (Law) as he is fired from his job of ten years where he cunningly weaves plot into his rant as we discover he “lost his family” to the job. Later we see him watch his son and ex (Jodie Whittaker) leave a school so it clarifies they are separated and no that he lost his family to a rampaging, wild submarine. Maybe not a necessary clarification but it never hurts to be clear.

Robinson does what any sound minded, self respecting man would and laments his problems at the nearest pub. His friend Kurtson (Daniel Ryan) then tells him about one of his jobs out to see where they had discovered a submarine they believed to be a fabled Nazi ship containing approximately a metric ‘dream tonne’ of gold. Robinson and their Russian friend ‘Blackie’ (Khabensky) who coincidently is very white, instantly believe him and Blackie contacts a shadowy rich man who says he will finance their mission for a cut. His assistant Daniels (McNairy) is also ordered to accompany them.

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Robinson gathers his crew in non traditional style, no X-men style montage of assembling a team this time, but he instead just transports them onto the same bus by the mere power of his words. This is nice and swift in moving it along, it’s good to get a brief background above water but the story progresses at a solid pace. Before they go Robinson is visited by Tobin (Bobby Schofield) who is a young boy sleeping rough who knew Kurston and says he committed suicide and sent him to tell Robinson “sorry”. Robinson crams some biscuits in his mouth and whisks Tobin away to a submarine, his young head filled with crumbs and dreams of riches.

The sub is a Russian model so the crew is half Russian and half British and the divide is clear very quickly in. The wild card is Fraser played by Ben Mendelsohn who is making a career from playing edgy, crazy, charisma machines. Fraser is taken though as he’s an amazing diver although being told you can sink well may not be the best compliment. They dive and are told that it’s equal share which angers some crew who believe they deserve more and the Russians reject Tobin as a ‘Virgin’ and so bad luck. *spoiler* His imminent baby with some girl though proves he may be worst Virgin known to man.

They set sail towards the war submarine filled with evil, Nazi gold.
No seriously, and they don’t even take a Nathan Drake. Fools.

The film does a fantastic job of cramming more plot lines and undertones than it crams men into a sub. The plot moves quickly but the bit above water is great in setting up the contrast for the wide open bright outdoors and the confined grime of the underwater sub. Robinson’s flashbacks are timely and not trying to be too poetic, impacting their simplicity and more like memories than statements. I worried this film would get too artsy for its own good but it steers clear of this (semi-accidental nautical pun). The conflict between the Russians and British is predictable but well done with it simmering for a while and given reason as some crew murmur over their share and the exchange rates and cultural differences. The crew aren’t over used but given plenty of character, I found myself rooting for Baba the sonar officer who has about two scenes and half as many lines. But is silently awesome.

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The accents aren’t amazing and there is little reason to make Jude Law play a Scottish character other than to make him sound silly when he’s mad. They aren’t awful though and I think too much has been made of this factor with people discrediting a solid story, well woven. Scoot McNairy’s character is a little disappointing and only their to reveal a twist and as a corporate figure for them to hate directly. Also his whispering a of evil plans get a little pantomime towards the end, his plan also makes little sense and offer only towards his own demise more than victory.

The music and sounds are creaky and foreboding like the ship itself and the shots are close and dark, it’s nothing revolutionary but it does the job well enough. In my opinion there isn’t enough done with the potential claustrophobia though and the potential of them becoming a community and a law unto themselves could have been harnessed more. The lines and plot are not groundbreaking and the twist and developments more trundle in than impact the story. The cast are generally good though and although some of the comedy efforts are weak they deliver them with gruff charm and particularly Michael Smiley as Reynolds. The cast salvage what gold they can from the submarine and script alike.

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The triumph of the movie though is Fraser and this could have been called while watching the trailer. Mendelsohn has fine tuned the art of the loose cannon and you could sharpen tools on the razor sharp atmosphere he creates around him. He is not the out and out villain and fumbles around in the dark for the morals that elude him in the murky, underwater fog. He attacks the Russian but in defence of Tobin, he cares the men he dives with and is haunted by the breathing of those he’s lost. Even as Daniels whispers poison in his ear like Lady Macbeth in a suit, he claws at logic and justice as a man truly lost at sea.

There aren’t many set pieces in the film’s and it sometimes feels like not much is happening, but the story is not too drawn out as Robinson descends into madness. He drags his crew into the depths of his own rage at life and the men who determine the price of his. His rants about the corporations are the only laboured point and will have socialists rioting in the streets and possibly on the waves now. He doesn’t want the gold as such, he wants the victory over the rich but uses people in the process like the machine he fights against. Jude Law as Robinson does a good job of still being likeable though as his character develops more cracks than a leaky hull and the ending to his story is convenient but satisfying making it worthwhile but paid for in its resolution.

The verdict: A smart, dark film that makes the most out of its shallow budget and expectations and draws atmosphere out of a endearing and hard working cast. This is not a classic film but an entertaining effort to be enjoyed at least once.

3.5/5

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