Is Black Sea the next great submarine movie?
Jude Law goes in search of Nazi gold deep under the ‘Black Sea,’ but are audiences ready to board his submarine?
It seems that movies that took place on submarines were a dime a dozen back in the 1940s and 1950s, many of the taking place during World War II. There are also classic submarine movies that don’t specifically take place in wartime, like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and On the Beach, and there are a few popular modern day sub movies like The Hunt for Red October but the last major film to be set on a submarine is 2002’s K-19: The Widowmaker. So are audiences ready for another trip in the confines of a steel tube deep under the sea?
If that movie is Black Sea, then the answer is a resounding yet. Black Sea takes place “today,” and focuses on Captain Robinson (Jude Law), a submariner who has worked for a salvage company who suddenly finds himself unemployed and with no other tangible skills. Commiserating in a local bar with his former sub-mates, also unemployed, he is presented with a plan to stick it to their former employer: hire a sub of their own and dive deep beneath the Black Sea to retrieve millions of dollars of Nazi gold that had been lost during WWII.
After meeting with an interested investor, Robinson puts together a crew of English and Russian sailors (he says he needs the Russians because they will be using a Russian sub), and promises them equal shares of the gold once the investor is paid. Unfortunately, Robinson’s friend who originally presented the plan has committed suicide, so he has to bring along a replacement, and the investor insists that his American banker (Scoot McNairy) is also part of the crew. What could go wrong with a group of Englishmen, Russians and a Yank trapped in a claustrophobic environment with no means of escape? As it turns out, plenty.
Black Sea, while not perfect (if the sub is Russian, why do all the gauges appear to be in English?), is still a tense, nail-biter of a thriller that will have you holding your breath as the tension ratchets up. The sub is barely out of port before tensions arise between the Brits and the Russians (over the cooking and the distribution of wealth), leading to a shocking murder that divides the crew. Of course, disaster strikes the sub and the crew must put aside their differences in order to survive, but another monkey-wrench is thrown into the works when the truth about the mission is revealed.
Director Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland) does a great job of setting up the story, showing us all that Robinson has lost – his family – because of his job, and then manages to keep things visually interesting and viscerally thrilling in the confines of the submarine. There may be a few too many mishaps along the way, but for a movie that runs just shy of two hours, the story has to keep moving. MacDonald only ventures outside of the sub once during the film, and one of the most heart-stopping scenes takes place as they listen as a Russian war ship passes by overhead. As exciting as the action scenes are, that one tensely quite scene is the film’s stand-out moment.
Also a stand-out is Jude Law. Forever the “pretty boy,” Law is aging gracefully, bulking himself up a bit and employing a thick Irish accent. He keeps Robinson tightly controlled as the mission begins, but like Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Law shows Robinson fraying around the edges as the promise of millions of dollars in gold begins to cloud his judgment. As he goes from rational to irrational, Law shows us what a great actor he truly is.
The rest of the cast is also top-notch, with real Russian actors playing the Russians – and speaking in Russian only with the occasional subtitle, which keeps us in the dark almost as much as it does the English speaking crew – and everyone accurately showing us what life on a submarine would be like (except for the murders, of course). All in all, Black Sea is a terrific edge-of-your-seat, heart-stopping, breath-holding, nail-biting thriller that stands up to the best of the classic submarine movies.