Setting a movie aboard a submarine naturally lends itself to intensity. There’s the inherent claustrophobia, with characters only able to navigate tight quarters. And then there’s the constant specter of death, whether from enemies, the crush of water or underwater rock formations.
All of this is and more comes to pass in the surprisingly thrilling Black Sea. Instead of the usual wartime setting, the submariners in play this time are those experienced in salvage work. Robinson (Jude Law) has just been let go by his cost-cutting company when an old co-worker approaches him with a scheme to loot a long-sunk Russian submarine filled with gold.
Director Kevin Macdonald does an excellent job ramping up the tension without delving into clichés.
With the help of Daniels (Scoot McNairy) and a mysterious benefactor, Robinson gathers together a half English/half Russian crew to go into the depths of the Black Sea. But the prospect of millions of dollars worth of gold, combined with the difficulty of communication between the two groups, soon leads to paranoia and anger — never a good mix when you’re far underwater.
Director Kevin Macdonald, working from a script by Dennis Kelly, does an excellent job ramping up the tension without delving into clichés. The gradual deterioration of the multicultural crew and their situation never plays out exactly like you think it will, with characters making surprising decisions on multiple occasions.
This unpredictability is key to the film’s success, as is the uneasy interaction between the two factions of the crew. One can imagine that the stress of undertaking such a mission is high, something that’s only exacerbated by the fact that the Englishmen and the Russians never get over their mutual distrust. It’s a volatile condition that only gets more so as the story unfolds.
Just as he did in 2014’s Dom Hemingway, Law uses an unfamiliar accent — in this case, a Scottish brogue — to help bring out the most in his character. The voice, combined with a bulked-up physical presence, lends an air of authority to Robinson, something he uses to good effect throughout.
What really keeps the film humming, though, are the supporting turns by some of the Russian actors. Grigoriy Dobrygin, Konstantin Khabenskiy and others deliver understated performances that stand in stark contrast to the more bombastic roles of their English peers.
Black Sea is a film that works not only as a thriller, but also as one that examines deep-seated fears, suspicion and greed. It’s an early-year gem that could bode well for what the rest of the 2015 movie year will look like.