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Black Sea (2015)

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Score: 7/10

Genre: Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 55 min.

Release Date: January 30th, 2015 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Kevin Macdonald Actors: Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Girgoriy Dobrygin, David Threlfall, Michael Smiley, Karl Davies, Jodie Whittaker

A

fter 11 years of working for the marine salvage company Agora, Captain Robinson (Jude Law) is unceremoniously dismissed. The corporation claims they don’t need a submarine pilot anymore – let alone a submarine. Having worked on U-boats for 30 years (and in the navy for 15), Robinson has no other skills and isn’t content scraping by at the likes of a fast food restaurant. He’s even lost his wife (Jodie Whittaker) and son to his demanding career. Several of his coworkers, including the perpetually tipsy Kurston (Daniel Ryan), have also been fired.

When Kurston informs Robinson of a shady business dealing in the Black Sea, the former skipper is immediately interested. Through middleman Daniels (Scoot McNairy), Robinson is introduced to Lewis (Tobias Menzies), an investor willing to pay $180,000 to fund a covert expedition into controversial waters to retrieve an estimated $40 million worth of Nazi gold. Sources suggest that, approximately 90 meters from the surface, a U-boat with two tons of extorted Russian gold has been resting since 1941, when Hitler demanded a loan from neutral Russia, to which Stalin was rumored to have complied. Robinson needs 12 men (a comically gristly gang) to operate a tumbledown tub commissioned in Sevastopol, Crimea. But the Black Sea is brimming with Russian destroyers and the submarine is leaky – and greed makes men do unpredictable things.

“This wreck’s gonna sink!” cries Daniels, who is dragged into the mission at the last minute. But that’s the point. Declining into the inky depths brings out the natural scares of claustrophobia and low visibility, while infighting and promises of an equal splitting of the spoils provokes distrust and paranoia. The fewer crewmembers left alive to collect means greater shares of the goods. And so a “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” theme is established, cleverly paired with the riveting underwater thrills of “The Abyss” (minus the science-fiction). The problem is that, despite plenty of brilliantly understated tension from realistic scenarios and excellent acting, the pacing routinely trudges, while many moments aren’t properly milked for anxiety or thrills.

Jude Law isn’t quite intimidating or imposing enough to be an appropriately formidable leader (most noticeable when a lust for wealth is intended to cloud his judgment), though the trait of irrational insanity is reserved for Ben Mendelsohn’s murderous Fraser and overdone psychological manipulation is heaped onto McNairy’s secretive company man. Similarly, a touch of sympathy and innocence is reflected in Bobby Schofield’s virginal Tobin, an eleventh-hour addition to round out the ship’s complement. All the while, music by Ilan Eshkeri emptily attempts to build suspense as warships float overhead, betrayal looms in unsubtle mind game opportunities, and when there simply aren’t any pressing activities being conducted. What works exceptionally well, however, are the seabed hike and winch-governed mush sequences, which take full advantage of the terrifying atmosphere of the cold, dark, seemingly extraterrestrial underwater terrain – where the value of human life scarily changes as palpable riches drift into view.

– Mike Massie

 



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