Have you ever had to sit down and make an incredibly difficult life decision dear reader? I’m not making the example of having your cake and eating it too mind you – I’m talking about really gut-wrenching stuff like choosing between life and happiness or pursuing underwater Nazi gold and potentially risking the lives of 11 other grown men just to satisfy your classist obsessions and stick it to ‘The Man’.
Because you know what? Fuck the man! Yeah! I’m going to ignore scientific and historical accuracy and potentially risk international incidents because I got fired from my job and feel bad (actually I quit my job in real life but bear with me). Who needs logic?! LOGIC BE DAMNED! Who needs that wife that left with our son because I was devoted to my salty old life on the sea?! I don’t need ‘nuffin cause I got me a big ol’ pile of gold on the bottom of the sea. I’ll find me a nice mermaid and we’ll have a nice sub-marine life in my submarine.
Is any of this resonating with you land-dweller? Do I need to WATER IT DOWN for your oxygen-needing self? Do you feel I need more DEPTH to my story? How about making it easier for you to SEA my point of view on life? I’d hate to think there’s an ocean between us, but if any of this is getting through to you, you might be…
Yeah sorry about wave after wave of sea puns, I’m trying to be more like director Kevin Macdonald in his movie Black Sea and be completely straightforward with the way I present information to my audience. It’s an interesting little film to say the least as it seemingly throws aside any character development or emotional complexity to jump to what…the next underwater blunder? Anyhow,for this type of movie you pretty much already know the routine. It’s a treasure hunting movie in a submarine that unfortunately takes itself a little too seriously.
Black Sea as the title is not just representative of the film’s geographic locale, but it’s pretty symbolic of the void that this film inhabits as well. Sure it’s mildly entertaining and you’ll probably stuff your face with popcorn, but is that really what we want from movies? Oh it is? Well in that case I’ll praise everything about this movie in due course. FULL SPEED AHEAD DEAR READER!
So hopefully my poorly attempted intro didn’t dampen your spirits with all that ‘land-dweller’ business. I merely wanted to whet your appetite a bit and make groan-worthy water puns. To properly summarize this film; basically Jude Law plays a crusty sea-captain named Robinson that gets fired from his salvage job for some shadowy corporation. After finding himself at the bottom of a healthy looking pint of beer, he is told a salty tale by his matey that there’s Nazi gold resting peacefully at the bottom of the Black Sea.
You’ll forgive me if I skip all the montages and build-up of the first act but you’ve no doubt see the same thing dozens of times by now. Robinson has his Ocean’s Eleven (see that was just too easy) moment and puts together his crack team of sea-thieves comprised of a half Russian, half English crew. They take some old rust-bucket submarine out to look for the sunken submarine and naturally shenanigans ensue.
Like any other good sub movie you get the usual claustrophobic drama mixed with the already elevated levels of tension that go with being 90 meters under the sea. Throw in a little greed-induced hysteria and that fact that the crew can’t understand one another except through a handful of translators and you’ve got yourself a good ol’ fashioned treasure hunt for those dastardly Nazis and their gold.
Now I’m not being fair to this movie as I so often do; this movie was really quite entertaining in that ‘Wow I wonder if they realized what they were doing when they made this’ sort of way. Sure it generally disregards physics and is filled with painfully unmotivated and uninteresting characters, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t at least glued to the screen crossing my fingers for something that wasn’t inherently predictable. Sure Jude Law! Take the kid with zero maritime experience along for the ride in a rusty old submarine. Of course he’s secretly a member of the local scuba club! Oh that comes in handy later in the film? Talk about peer pressure. GET IT!? PRESSURE! DIVING? BAHAHAHA
That does bring me to an interesting segment of the film though. Since the entire premise took on a bit of water after the first act, it naturally had to turn into the movie The Abyss and you got the obligatory ‘teetering on the edge of a cliff’ scene. I actually was thoroughly entertained by this part, and felt the entire deep-sea-dive bit was extremely enjoyable. It was tense, well-paced, and I even think there was an attempt at a jump-moment in this underwater thriller.
One of the benefits of having a confined space as your setting is that you immediately get that level of sustained tension that you otherwise would struggle to achieve through traditional story-telling. The downside to this? Yeah, you guessed it – predictability. Of course those escape suits are going to be necessary. Who would have guessed those precariously placed buckets of fuel would spell disaster? Hmmm…evenly split shares of that gold huh? What if I just kill off a few folks, that means my share goes up right?
All in all Black Sea did have a couple of things that worked in its favor. It steered away from the emotional and claustrophobic anguish you’d get in Das Boot and didn’t sink under the weight of historical inaccuracy like U-571. It had much more of a Hunt for Red October feel but could have easily blown a ballast tank, said its ‘dasvidaniyas’ and turned into Down Periscope. I honestly was waiting for it to turn into a comedy with campy Russian villains or at the very least a Nazi-Ghost naval horror film akin to Outpost.
Unfortunately for me, director Kevin Macdonald torpedoed these dreams and cast authentic Russian actors (I suppose they can’t all have Harrison Ford with a legendarily awful Russian Accent like K-19: The Widowmaker). Other than that the only real highlight I’d bring up is seeing Jude Law attempt the grizzly old sea-captain persona. He’s an extremely versatile actor, I’ll give him that, but I don’t think I would have ever expected such a voyage from his earlier cultivated roles.
I was thoroughly pleased to see him attempt a transformation from a fired blue-collar worker to an ‘at-all-cost’, obsession-driven treasure hunter. Unfortunately writer Dennis Kelly doesn’t really give him enough depth as a character to make you care one way or the other. If I’m being honest you won’t really care about any of the characters, or the submarine, or the sea, or the lack of any distinguishable threat, or the scientific and historical inaccuracies. We’re all watching this movie for one reason and one reason only.
Because there’s fucking Nazi gold in it.
The Bottom Line:
It’s not quite your traditional submarine movie mainly because it lacks any discernable external threat. There’s like one ‘enemy’ destroyer that probably couldn’t care less that they’re even there, because frankly – who the fuck would be stupid enough to take a rusty decaying submarine to look for an even more unlikely-to-exist shipwreck.
Let’s compound that self-inflicted angst by throwing in a bare-bone crew that can’t communicate with each other, no pre-established plan of action other than ‘steal the gold!’, oh and two completely useless characters (a banker and a kid that can’t keep it in his pants) and you’ve got yourself a low budget UK thriller.
That’s the film. It’s a series of incredibly unbelievable and uninspired events on a submarine and, yet, at its conclusion I wasn’t the least bit unhappy with my decision to spend $1 on a ticket. You’ll be entertained, but more likely you’ll get a hearty laugh when it comes out on Netflix.