“Black Sea” Goes Deep and Dark

By Ryan Anderson (@randerson_ryan)

Black Sea,” released earlier this year, is a resolutely old-fashioned thriller that hearkens back to the many quality submarine films of the past and adroitly adds tenets of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”

The setup is cleverly simple. Robinson (Jude Law) has spent his life on subs, both as a member of the British Navy and as a leader of salvage crews, but he’s unceremoniously sacked by his company; he’s told he’s redundant in their modern corporate culture. Depressed, he goes to drown his sorrows in a nearby pub, where a friend informs him of a get-rich scheme. Apparently, there’s a sunken German submarine in the Black Sea with millions in Nazi gold just waiting to be plucked by a crew with the will and the ability.

Robinson rounds up a rough crew of sailors who are just as down on their luck as he; the crew is half Russian and half British, which immediately leads to enmity and distrust. And, when Robinson informs them each man gets an equal share of however much gold they recover, slowly the men begin to work the math–the fewer men onboard, the larger my share. Some of these rogues even begin plotting the untimely demise of their fellow crew members. The corrosive effects of greed added to the psychological travails of being locked in a tiny, dilapidated sub deep under the sea lead to problems, as one might surmise.

Movies, like “Das Boot,” “Crimson Tide,” “The Hunt for Red October,” and “K-19: The Widowmaker,” are set on subs because of the inherent drama. It’s a dangerous work environment, to say the least, and everyone is in close quarters. It’s almost impossible not to have tension, and “Black Sea” is certainly taught.

In addition to being about greed, obsession, and risk, “Black Sea” is also about fathers and sons. Robinson’s wife left him, taking their son, for a wealthier man, which embittered Robinson, and he consequently takes a novice, 18-year-old crew member under his wing, acting as a surrogate father.

“Black Sea” is the latest effort from Kevin Macdonald, most famous for directing “The Last King of Scotland,” which won Forest Whitaker an Academy Award for best actor, and Macdonald gets a tremendous lead performance out of Law, as well sterling supporting work from character actors like Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, and David Threlfall.

“Black Sea” earns a 60, plus, grade on the 20-80 scale, serving as the latest entry in the strong canon of submarine movies.

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