In cinemas from Fri 05 Dec
Kevin Macdonald / UK / 2014 / 115 mins
Scotsman Captain Robinson (Jude Law) has worked on submarines for nearly thirty years, his commitment to the vessels providing not only his livelihood, but also an addiction – one that has cost him his marriage. So when corporate downsizing sees him fired from his job in deep-sea salvage, it’s fair to say he doesn’t exactly feel at home visiting the local Jobcentre Plus.
However, convening with recently unemployed friends and an American financier by the name of Daniels (Scoot McNairy), Robinson soon finds a way he can make use of his skills. Assembling his best men – along with Daniels and a young Scouse drifter-cum-surrogate son (Bobby Schofield) he picks-up along the way – he acquires an old Russian sub and leads his crew into the depths of Black Sea. Their target? A lost German U-boat rumoured to lie at the bottom, filled with unclaimed Nazi gold.
It’s a mad premise – and one that is entirely oversold – yet Black Sea remains an oddly endearing watch. Lines like ‘what are these men going to do when they figure out their share gets bigger when there are less people to split it with?’ may be a little on the nose, but they appear early, meaning the concept has room to breathe, even if the intrepid sailors don’t. Making use of tightly framed shots, director Kevin Macdonald succeeds in conveying his setting’s constant and suffocating closeness – and with the combined paranoia induced by claustrophobia, a language barrier amongst the crew and the presence of some of the vessel’s more intense inhabitants (Ben Mendelsohn’s Fraser is positively unhinged), it’s fair to say matters soon become tense.
Indeed, from the sudden and brilliantly executed moment the mission starts to go awry, Black Sea is engrossing, edge of your seat viewing. With an atmosphere that evokes films as disparate as Jaws, The Thing and Aliens (albeit without the monsters), and a narrative that encompasses decomposed Nazi skeletons, the perils of Gold Madness and an unexpected line of commentary on the recession, it’s hard not to have fun. If nothing else, opportunities to hear Michael Smiley describing penguins as ‘wee waddling pricks’ and an Aberdonian Jude Law declare that ‘this time, the shit is fighting back!’ are worth the price of admission alone. No, Black Sea may not be subtle, but it is certainly entertaining.