Film Review: Black Sea

by Chad Liffmann on January 30, 2015

A few leaks can’t sink this thrilling submarine flick.

Jude Law, looking happy, in Black Sea.

Jude Law, looking happy, in Black Sea.

About halfway through Black Sea I realized that I wasn’t breathing.  It was a scene in which a few members of the submarine crew exit into the blackness of the ocean floor, and the claustrophobic intensity got the best of me.  I had to take a moment to inhale and exhale and remind myself that it’s just a film, and soon after I was sucked back into it.  Kevin Macdonald’s Black Sea is not just a deep sea treasure hunt that entertains with its thrills.  The film sinks in deeper intellectually by the way it weaves in post-war sentiments, economic tensions, and the battle between war-torn human nature versus basic human values.  Black Sea is the best submarine film released in many years, and one of the tightest thrillers in recent memory.

The plot of Black Sea is structured a bit like a heist film.  Captain Robinson (Jude Law), a man with few applicable skills beyond submarine piloting, is let go from his company.  While sharing a pint with his former submarine companions, an opportunity arises — a shadowy investor is interested in funding an expedition to recover a rumored gold fortune in a sunken WWII U-boat at the bottom of the Black Sea.   A rag tag crew of Russian and British members is assembled and without delay they take the plunge on an old submarine, eager to regain economic status and stick it to the man.

Law, sporting manly stubble throughout and projecting a deep Scottish accent, owns every scene he’s in.  Having lost his family to the tough demands of his former job, and eager to provide economic light to the young and old who have felt the unfair sting of the 99%, Robinson slowly falls victim to his own hubris.  Law is mesmerizing in his portrayal of a man conflicted, eager, and steadfast in his mission.  Ben Mendelsohn, as Fraser, a mentally unstable expert diver, carries the unnerving tension of the Russian vs. British dynamic in every subtle gesture, look, and word he emits.

And the direction from Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void, The Last King of Scotland) is very sure-handed.  There aren’t a lot of flourishes.  They aren’t needed.  This is a fairly straightforward thriller, with the drama and action being captured in a way that trusts the actors and the script above all else.  In a few scenes, you can easily predict what will happen next, but that’s a minor complaint when the scenes are so engaging to begin with.  The tension in Black Sea is palpable because there isn’t choppy editing and there’s a minimal amount of quick cuts.   Now, I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from heading to the theaters this weekend to see Black Sea due to its intensity.  It’s a wild ride and a strong theatrical experience.  But if you do see it, don’t forget to breathe.


Black Sea opens in theaters today, January 30th.

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