Black Sea (2014)


Film review of the action thriller Black Sea, starring Jude Law and Scoot McNairy.

Director: Kevin Macdonald. Film4/Cowboy Films/Etalon Film



Cast & credits

Producer: Kevin Macdonald, Charles Steel.
Writer: Dennis Kelly.
Camera: Christopher Ross.
Music: Ilan Eshkeri.
Sets: Nick Palmer.

Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Tobias Menzies, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Ben Mendelsohn, Jodie Whittaker, David Threlfall, Michael Smiley, Karl Davies.


In order to make good with his former employers, a submarine captain (Law) takes a job with a shadowy backer to search the depths of the Black Sea for a Nazi submarine rumored to be loaded with gold.


This review feels more like a premiere for me, being my first chance to sample MK’s Cineworld after several weeks on ‘the other side’. Despite the on-going refurbishment work previously reported by Total MK and some minor gremlins in the works (a few recalcitrant lights in the auditorium I sat in having to be persuaded into submission), this was a refreshingly palatial experience, sat amongst the distinctive, sumptuous blood reds of Cineworld in massively comfortable seats with plenty of a leg-room for a nearly-6 footer.

It was also briskly busy for a 6pm Friday screening, about 80 people for a film that has not been heavily promoted – have I been frequenting the wrong type of multiplex? Next up is their Super Screen, to be unveiled in a week’s time, but until then on with the actual review.

This is a beefy, solid if slightly half-hearted action film, manly, sweaty and gruff. Rather like the now muscled star Law, here leading as the renegade captain of the submarine, a team player willing to put his team’s lives on the line to secure riches on the sea bed, in order to stick one to ‘the man’. He’s wearing the years surprisingly well and his performance bristles with the kind of intense but sensitive conviction we have come to expect from him, persuasive and controlled but also increasingly unfocused, he rolls around on sailors barrel legs with slightly menacing eyes.

This manned-up turn benefits from a commendable sounding Scottish accent, unfortunately let down by what seems an over-enunciating mouth and painful jaw jutting as he barks his orders out. He looks like he’s just chomped down on an out of date haggis found at the back of the sub’s kitchen cupboards.

The cast that make up his crew look like appropriately moth-eaten Argonauts to his modern-day Jason, providing salty and seasoned supporting acts. Of especial note is Threlfall (from TV’s Shameless) as an old-timer riddled with emphysema but still able to spit out the one-liners. When one character, on seeing the rusty submarine they will use to find the bullion, states “This wreck’s gonna sink”, Threlfall replies “It’s a fucking useless sub if it don’t”. It’s a minor role, the same type of sea dog you’ve seen in a million boat/sub/navy films, but the work Threlfall has expended makes meeting him a worthy experience. This is the type of guy you could meet down the pub and enjoy a few jars with.

But for every line of great dialogue in a more or less solidly crafted movie such as this, there are also corny, ‘manly’ platitudes and head-scratching plot holes that litter carelessly constructed action film scripts.

I’ll choose to forget the gratingly poor line from Law about big business choosing to “flush shit like us away, but now the shit is fighting back” and focus instead on what seems like far-fetched engineering principles (why does this rusty submarine even leave land without any preparatory work, that takes place at sea? Would it really survive such a gruelling journey?), clunky additions to the story (would a submarine captain as experienced as Law really pick a young and completely inexperienced man such as Tobin [Bobby Schofield] to join his crew on such a dangerous mission?) and the fact that the script is nothing more than a water-bound update of Greed (1925) and Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948).

Director Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, 2006) shows himself capable of creating stomach tightening, tense moments, particularly the seabed walk toward the sunken Nazi sub that had me squirming in my seat. The paralysing, lonely dark of being underwater already creates a sense of unease and he capitalises on this to the max.

It’s a shame therefore that he doesn’t make a bit more of the claustrophobic interior of Law’s vessel where the horror of human avarice starts with a bang but peters out with a soggy whisper.


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