Black Sea,
directed by Kevin MacDonald
(Focus Features, 2015)

Black Sea is very much the Indiana Jones-meets-Das Boot story it appears to be: Somewhere in the Black Sea is a hidden shelf containing the remains of a Nazi submarine, which is the repository of enough gold to make the most desperate souls consider climbing into a veritable rust bucket of a submarine in order to fetch it out and set themselves up for life. It's quite awesome in some respects, achieving with ease the sense of massive insignificance being so far under the sea conveys; however, its ambition gets in the way and the story becomes plodding toward the end. Its length weighs heavily against it and the contrivances in the plot don't help.

It's certainly a glorious spectacle, though, with very real characters, terrific effects and a ton of action. As in other underwater thriller movies such as Das Boot and The Abyss, the stakes are tied to the tension, which increases with every disaster and setback. Black Sea's hypnotic realism is the product of its attention to detail and a clear vision of the medium's potential.

Jude Law's character is a tired, bereft man with nothing left, not even a job after he is laid off from a company that cut him loose without a moment's consideration, a company whose demands cost him his wife and son. He leads a rag-tag band of fallen-between-the-cracks people, people like himself, with literally nothing left to lose, on a mission to retrieve millions of dollars in gold bricks lost in a storm decades ago, until a lucky radar ping reveals its existence.

Law's excellent and quite possibly best performance yet is as a captain slowly losing his leadership over a group whose deteriorating state is exacerbated by the depth and the blackness of the ocean, putting its trapped cast through the worst paces imaginable. These men have excelled at dangerous work but it's their inner demons that are more of a threat to them in such a desperate situation. The seething desperation erupts into violence, vengeance and eventual heroism. But before that final act can be achieved, the long, slow, grinding drama that supports the action has to build, under hellish conditions, into shattering conflict.

Well-crafted if predictable, Black Sea is still a captivating film about people who have nothing to lose and everything to gain, which makes them all a danger in a situation that's at powder keg levels. The message about the corrosive nature of greed is well-done, if overdone, but it's still a very distinctive kind of thriller.

review by
Mary Harvey

2 May 2015

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