Saturday, March 21, 2015

Film Review: Black Sea (2014)

Copyright: Universal International Pictures
If submarine movies taught us anything, it is that the bottom of a sea is a great place to die in many different and colorful ways. Starting with drowning, exploding and suffocating, there is no doubt that submarines in films usually present steel coffins in which people rarely experience anything nice.

Black Sea brings about a similar idea, but places it outside of a military context. In its plot, there is no World War II or even a Cold War. Instead, the film takes place in the present day, where a washed out (pun not intended) salvage submarine captain called Robinson loses his job and then accepts a shady offer of taking a boat to the bottom of the Black sea near the Georgian coast, where allegedly a German U-boat sub has lain since 1941, full of dead German submariners, but also 2 tons of gold bars.

Robinson agrees, takes a crew of Westerners and Russians and sails to the location, where he needs to get the gold, but also dodge the Russian Navy. In no time at all, the whole idea of how all subs are submariner’s coffins begins to take its familiar form.

Directed by Kevin Macdonald, the Black Sea movie brings about an interesting twist to this genre, while it also manages to create something of a sub-genre that can be called a civilian salvage underwater thriller. With a good cast lead by Jude Law, but also by the very impressive Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot McNairy, translating this script into a film was not a huge challenge. Like in his recent film How I Live Now, Macdonald is apt in presenting a simple plot in a fresh way.

Here as well, while the story does have many plot holes and adventure tropes (like the moment where Captain Robinson brings along a completely unskilled young man on the mission, mainly out of pity), the overall dynamic of the film leaves the viewer interested in the characters on a very basic level. Also, Macdonald steers clear of overplaying dramatic segments which could have easily sunk this film (it’s easy to make sea-related puns when writing about submarine films).

The best thing about the Black Sea movie is the fact that it brings a focused thriller full of hard-boiled submariner-type characters, free of any unnecessary cinematic noise. Like the narratively completely different Maps to the Stars, this film pulls the viewers in and keeps them near all the way to the end.