MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Black Sea’ Is A Leaky Ship

black sea

Film: Black Sea
Directed By: Kevin Macdonald
Starring: Jude Law, Jodie Whittaker, Scoot McNairy

Submarine thrillers that emanate claustrophobia and heist thrillers with big risks are two subgenres that have been retreaded over and over. In director Kevin Macdonald’s newest, a world is envisioned where the two could work in tandem. Add a dash of grim humor, deep cockney accents, a crazed Ben Mendelsohn performance, and a murder plot and you get Black Sea. Things get a bit predictable and linger on for far too long, but a committed slew of great character actors help make the material rise to bearable January fodder.

Jude Law plays Robinson, a submarine captain with no first name because he’s that much of an expert in his field. After getting fired from the Agora Corporation, his employer for the past 11 years, he takes it upon himself to join up with some other disgruntled sailors in the job of a lifetime. The job being the heist of millions of dollars in gold from an old Nazi submarine in the Black Sea. Working for a mysterious millionaire, Robinson rounds up the best of the best to get the job done. Naturally, some things go amiss.

Black Sea is a blunt film, to say the least. The dangers on a submarine are clearly laid out to the viewer via dialogue uttered by the cast of characters. Sadly, most (if not all) of those dangers end up occurring. Saying that things get predictable doesn’t capture exactly how every single side-eye and death stare between characters results in some sort of plot-changing violence.

The most thrilling moments of Black Sea come in the form of the underwater sequences. When some of the crew members must dive to get some materials to save the ship, you can feel the danger of the depths all around them. When they are back in home base though, the sense of dread is overbearing, forcing the viewer to believe that something bad will happen at every turn. The film has a hard time balancing procedural thrills and unique instances of terror to be considered anything but uneven.

One thing that shines through the mucky sea floor in Black Sea is the stellar cast. Jude Law seems to be doing a subdued riff on his character in Dom Hemingway, bringing the same kind of intensity while also being a physical threat we rarely see in his acting choices. Ben Mendelsohn (Killing Them Softly, Animal Kingdom, Starred Up) is great once again as another version of a psychopath, a trope he has a knack for acting out. The minute he gets onto the boat, you know that whatever this man does, it will be an interesting time to watch.

Scoot McNairy (Killing Them Softly, Monsters) and Michael Smiley (Kill List, Luther) also make decent turns in the otherwise mundane material. McNairy plays Daniels, the man overseeing the operation for the sole proprietor of the undersea venture. McNairy pulls off a character unknowing of the risks at sea really well and he provides some great balance with the other weathered seafarers. Smiley gets tasked with playing Reynolds, a piloting expert on the ship, carrying the load of dialogue filled with specific knowledge of submarine diving. Never once do his specific utterances feel tired or confusing to anyone unbeknownst of the science behind it all.

As a heist film, Black Sea doesn’t strive to be anything more than what you see in the bargain bin. There’s a setup of the heist, the execution of it, and the plot-altering twist that makes the players have to improvise quickly on their feet. If this were all set on land, the film would almost be indiscernible from the slew of other related features before it. This may not be Macdonald’s most unique effort but it certainly will not go down in history as his worst.

GRADE: C-

Review written by Sam Cohen (follow him on Twitter!)

Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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