Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Written by Dennis Kelly
The submarine thriller sub-genre of moviemaking, in my opinion, is a severely underrepresented and underappreciated genre today. Sea-faring films in general really aren’t quite as prevalent as I may like. If this sounds ridiculous so far, I’m not surprised; it is a very niche world under the thriller heading, and I’m not sure what apart from the great, can’t escape the ship/sub setting attracts me to it so much, but there are some darn good entries (Das Boot and Master and Commander for instance). Hearing that director Kevin Macdonald was set to helm a new such thriller, well, color me excited, but I guess, as it goes, there will always be movies that result a bit like this one, and I’m not entirely sure where to place the blame.
Don’t get me wrong, Black Sea is a perfectly adequate film, but I’m sure that’s not what the collaborators were going for when they made it: perfectly adequate. Captain Robinson (Jude Law) is a submarine captain for a salvage company. However, he has recently learned that his services are no longer needed, adding insult to injury after having lost his wife and son to the many hard hours of work and away time required from his position. With seemingly nothing left, he hires a crew of likewise let-go shipmates to seek out a sunken U-boat full of gold, located somewhere in the Black Sea. But after attaining funding for the project, the crew begins to crack under the pressure of the deep seas.
What brings the film down from being a smart, tense submarine thriller is the believability. It’s a film with many stretches, sure, and I can forgive it that, but what I mean by believability is in its most basic construction, not the less essential elements. The core of the film rang false for me. For one, the captain never quite feels fully developed, which presents an issue since he is the main character and it’s his motives which prove the crux of the film. I can deal with underdeveloped side characters, and in this one it’s about on par. The inclusion of a character like the kid is a nice touch and does add at least some rooting interest to a boat that is otherwise full of marginally bad men.
But that being said, perhaps the most egregious construction is that of the tension on the boat. Pitting English against Russian on a boat set out to unearth millions of dollars’ worth of gold is a great idea, but Macdonald never gives the concept a chance to grow, to permeate through the ranks of the boat in a manner that is both convincing and threatening. The instigator of the tension instigates, and that’s that. He not only acts for reasons unknown, but is basically the only one; the rest of the crew is simply reactionary to his transgressions. The film never feels like it could breath, suffocated by its own absence of spark.
I think that’s really what it comes down to. The film never felt like it had a spark. For something as powerful as sitting on a sunken sub full of gold, the stakes didn’t feel heighted, which may be the result of putting it in the hands of rather unlikable sort of men. The other possibility, I will admit, is simply that Kevin Macdonald didn’t make the film I wanted him to, in which case the misjudgment lies entirely on my shoulders. For what it is, Black Sea presents a good scenario and executes it with at least a level of competency for it to be mildly entertaining and enjoyable. So for as bad as I make it out to be, I think I have been stuck on the things I didn’t like, or thought could be better, instead of focusing in on the positives. It falls into the “maybe worth a rental from Redbox” range of interest.