Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 54 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Language throughout, some Graphic Images and Violence
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald
Written by: Dennis Kelly
Starring: Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, David Threlfall, Karl Davies & Michael Smiley
BLACK SEA is a nice surprise. Though I was sold on the concept and talent involved, the promotional material for this film made it look like a standard thriller about a killer picking people off one by one that happened to be set on a submarine. This was not the case at all. BLACK SEA turned out to be a thrilling adventure that had me on the edge of my seat and elicited many gasps from the decent sized audience who saw it with me. This might go down as one of 2015’s most underrated flicks.
Robinson is a dedicated submarine captain who has sacrificed his relationships for his job and has also just been unceremoniously fired. Frustrated with the prospect of living out of a dingy apartment and flipping burgers for the rest of his life, this former ocean expert is offered the opportunity of a lifetime. He and a specialized crew are hired to go on a treasure hunt. A sunken U-Boat lying at the bottom of the Black Sea is supposedly filled with millions in Nazi gold. The submarine is picked. The expedition is financed. The crew is assembled (half British and half Russian). As the trip begins, tensions ignite. Danger comes from all sides and the deep-sea voyage begin to go sour.
Being partially misled by a trailer that seemingly gave away the whole plot, I was surprised that BLACK SEA not only to avoided generic thriller tropes, but quickly turned into a adrenaline-pumping adventure. The story isn’t only about tensions rising in a crew that’s split down in the middle, but also about the many perils of the treasure hunt to begin with. While there are bombastic scenes of bad things hitting the fan (especially in the final third), there are equally moments of quiet dread and tension coming from the outside of the submarine as well. Plot developments can be predictable in moments, including the addition of a teenage sidekick in the submarine and a few generic memory flashbacks from Jude Law’s character, but BLACK SEA is a highly entertaining blast.
Director Kevin Macdonald masterfully piles on intense atmosphere. This film will definitely make claustrophobic viewers majorly uncomfortable as most of the story takes place under the sea where death surrounds the crew with no easy escape. The cinematography is beautiful and I was wholly convinced that this film was shot on location, though it was actually filmed in England and not war-torn waters of Russia. The story takes a dark turn as bodies pile up, but these aren’t simply the result of a crazy crew member (though there are a couple of those in tow). These deaths are made more devastating given how damned good most of the performers are in their roles. When a character died, I was sad to see them go.
Jude Law is a quality actor and that hasn’t changed for his role as hardened Captain Robinson. Ben Mendelsohn is particularly memorable as a diver with a short fuse. Scoot McNairy seems to have a knack for playing assholes and that translates well into his role as a snobby high-class assistant thrown on board with a lower-class crew. Michael Smiley is a nice addition as well, but young Bobby Schofield is annoying as the young teenage Tobin. That might be attributed to this character being a casualty of a number of clichés that make their way on board. Besides a kid-in-peril, there’s also familiarity in where things ultimately wind up. However, these issues don’t detract too much from the terrifically fun experience.
BLACK SEA might have a few clichés in tow, but is a great adventure nonetheless. This is not the generic thriller that was advertised, even if you can easily guess where the conclusion will wind up about 15 minutes before it hits. The performances are stellar as is the adrenaline rush left by this modern sea tale. BLACK SEA is a trip that’s well worth taking!