I went into watching Black Sea with a blank slate, not knowing too much about the movie and by the time I stopped watching, I was left wondering why this movie hadn’t been getting more attention. Black Sea is a well-made, atmospheric thriller that keeps you hooked from beginning to end and is truly well worth watching.
The movie follows the story of Robinson, played by Jude Law, a former Navy officer and submarine expert whose devotion to his work has caused him to lose touch with his family. Robinson gets retrenched from his job as an under-sea salvage technician and receives little compensation for his many years of service. While having a drink with some former colleagues, he meets up with a friend and a Russian man who have uncovered the whereabouts of a lost World War 2 treasure that sank with a submarine during the war. To get to the wreckage, they will need to traverse through disputed waters in the Black Sea and avoid other military vessels that will take them as a threat. But the reward is just the paycheck Robinson needs to stay afloat.
After finding a financial backer for their mission, Robinson arranges an old submarine and a crew of equally desperate Scottish and Russians ex-sailors and divers to retrieve the lost gold and ensure their financial futures. The perilous journey though begins to take its toll on the crew and they have to not only face difficulties in their task, but overcome each other, as mounting greed, suspicion and desperation begins to take over.
Black Sea is a slow burning story that might sound like your typical subterfuge for a heist movie, but it is told in a wonderfully atmospheric way by Kevin McDonald (Last King of Scotland), who utilizes great camera angles and a somber and dark cinematography to really draw you in to the emotions and desperation that the characters are feeling as the story unravels in the claustrophobic confines of the submarine. And the story is by no means generic – as it unfolds there is enough unexpected plot turns and developments that keep you constantly in a state of suspension and surprise.
The acting from the majority of the cast is top notch, especially from Law who plays the role of Robinson with believable conviction and is suitably two-faced, so that you never know what to expect from him as a character. The supporting cast is also really strong and while some of the Russian characters are portrayed in a stereotypical fashion (probably more a fault of the script than the acting), the script never allows you to settle too much in dwelling on it. And just as the majority of the action takes place in the tight setting of the submarine, you too cannot escape or run far from the drama assaulting these characters. All of whom are brought to life with great performances from the likes of Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, David Threlfall, Bobby Schofield and more as key players in this story.
As mentioned earlier, the direction from McDonald is excellent and he does a fantastic job in building constantly renewed tension. He brings out the best in the cast, and allows the camera to focus on critical moments in their story, allowing you to experience what they are thinking without them needing to say a word. It’s subtle at times, but ingenious when it plays out before you and you feel a part of many of their lives. He is aided by the cinematography by Christopher Ross who provides a suitable stygian tone throughout the film, and aces the challenge of getting the right light balance for the underwater submarine portions of the movie (which is the majority of the film) so that the action remains clear but still realistically dark enough to add to the omnipresent atmosphere.
The score by Ilan Eshkeri (47Ronin, Kick-Ass) and editing by Justine Wright both build on this and complement each other, in matching the required pacing of the film. Nothing stands out about either discipline – but that actually draws you in even further as you stay focused on the story in front of you, instead of being distracted or led along by cinematic tricks.
The script, written by Dennis Kelly (who is more famous for writing plays than films – which is apt considering the confined nature of the set), allows for a kinetic plot and although there are many good turns and suspenseful intrigue throughout, it never stops focusing on character development. Some of the early dialogue in the move can prove to be a little wasteful in that it neither advances the plot or the characters, but once you are in the meat of the action it hits all these areas perfectly.
Black Sea has its flaws and small plot-holes, but they are minor and as you get drawn into this masterfully told story, you will feel torn as certain events come to pass. It may not have a lot of action, but it is never short of suspense and is a story you will want to be a part of more than once.
Last Updated: January 26, 2016