Title: Black Sea
Doesn't Jude Law Have Five Kids? Makes sense. Compared to that, being trapped with a bunch of stinky dudes in a Soviet-era submarine sounds positively relaxing.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three and a half Cary Grants out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Disgruntled sub captain hunts for sunken treasure, paternal redemption.
Tagline: "Brave the deep. Find the gold. Trust no one."
Better Tagline: "Scenes from a class struggle in Batumi."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: You know, there's probably never a *good* time to be an unemployed submarine captain. For Robinson (Jude Law), technological advances in the marine salvage industry have forced him out of the only job he's ever known (the job that also cost him his family, which will be important later). Embittered and without prospects, a fellow ex-worker talks him into leading a joint British/Russian mission to recover NAZI GOLD from a sunken U-boat in the Black Sea.
I don't why I capitalized Nazi gold. It seemed appropriate.
"Critical" Analysis: Finally, an answer to the eternal mystery: What's long and hard and full of Jude Law's seamen?
Okay, maybe "eternal" is a stretch. Black Sea, however, is Law's first solo dramatic leading role in quite some time, and he makes the most of it. Grizzled, muscular and spouting a nigh-impenetrable Aberdonian accent, his Robinson is clearly a hard man, made all the more so by an entire adult life spent at sea.
Make no mistake, the movie is as much a commentary on present-day economic realities as it is an underwater action yarn. Robinson's actions aren't just a way to stick it to his former employers, but also a means to get the last laugh on his recently (and richly) remarried ex-wife while somehow making it up to his son for years of parental neglect.
[Also to that end, Robinson takes a fatherly interest in Tobin (Bobby Schofield) a young man who finds himself pressed into service aboard the boat.]
But Black Sea is first and foremost a submarine flick, and director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) -- taking a break from several years of filming documentaries -- gets most of it right. Robinson's decrepit sub, presumably unnamed so as to reflect the mercenary crew's lack of sentiment, is a dank, ramshackle affair. It's covered in rust and makes the that famous "piece of junk" Millennium Falcon look like the Excelsior, with sporadic lights that barely illuminate more than the strained, sweaty faces of Robinson and his men.
Refreshingly, character tropes are kept to a minimum. Certainly, Robinson is their leader and Tobin's about to be a father for the first time, but the rest of the crew are separated only by the extent of their avarice. Conflicts arise between the British half and their Russian counterparts over money, but this arguably reinforces the film's central thesis: that the have-nots are finally due to get theirs.
Black Sea starts out strong, surprisingly so. Given the film's trailer, I was afraid this would be a case of Robinson quickly succumbing to Ocean Madness and going kill-happy in the submarine's unfriendly confines. Macdonald avoids this obvious development for the first two acts, raising tension while fleshing out the characters (Konstanin Khabensky's Blackie and Grigoriy Dobrygin's Morozov chief among them) admirably. It says something when the sleaziest character (played by Scoot McNairy, whose only notes were probably "play Burke from Aliens") is often the sole voice of reason.
Unfortunately, it doesn't hold up. A cascading series of disasters and Robinson's inevitable breakdown lead to a less than satisfying resolution, and it doesn't help that one significant character (Fraser, played by Ben Mendlesohn) behaves so inexplicably the end I can only assume he underwent an offscreen lobotomy.
It's too bad, because up until that point, Black Sea was surprisingly engaging. I still think it's worth a watch, but it doesn't quite [hunts for submarine pun] blow the ballast of its goofy third act.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.