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BLACK SEA

SYNOPSIS: After being made redundant from his job, commercial submarine Captain Robinson (Jude Law) takes on a dirty job - worth a chunk of the spoils - with a shadowy backer (Tobias Menzies) to search the depths of the Black Sea for a sunken submarine rumored to be loaded with gold, originally headed (during the war) as a loan from Stalin to Hitler - before Hitler headed to Stalin.

Review by Louise Keller:
Buried treasure and betrayal are the key elements of this drama from King of Scotland director Kevin Macdonald in which human weakness and greed overtake the claustrophobic, treacherous underwater conditions. Dennis Kelly's gripping screenplay takes place for the most part, on board a submarine headed for the Georgian Coast in search of gold nuggets. The journey begins with high hopes and a sense of adventure but very soon it is the disintegration of the relationships on-board that prompts the fiery unravelling, forcing life and death decisions, rather than those concerning wealth and poverty. It's an explosive journey filled with tension, keeping us on tenterhooks throughout.

The opening sequences succinctly set the scene, introducing us to Jude Law's marine salvage expert Robinson, whose 30 years on submarines count for nothing when the company for which he works tells him he is no longer needed in the changed industry. Robinson has much about which to be bitter: his life at sea has cost him his wife and child and left him penniless. The scene in which he watches his former wife pick up their 12 year-old son from an expensive posh school gives us an inkling into how deeply his bitterness lies.

Plans are laid to search for the wartime Nazi U-boat filled with gold ingots, money is raised and we know the quickly assembled mishmash crew from Britain and Russia is a time-bomb waiting to be detonated. We don't have to wait long. Dangerously fractious wild card diver Fraser (played by an on-song Ben Mendelsohn) is the unwieldy match that lights the fuse. Scoot McNairy plays a slimy suit involved in the financing of the mission; Gregoriy Dobrygin is a Russian go-between; and newcomer Bobby Schofield is the 18 year-old novice Tobin, who is thrown literally and metaphorically into the deep end.

Tensions escalate: close quarters, conflicted cultural relationships, resentments, greed, dissatisfactions, fears and anxieties. Chaos quickly follows with violence and a serious mechanical failure. My heart was in my mouth during the sequence when Fraser and Tobin leave the sub and dive onto the ocean floor. All the while, Robinson goes from captain in control to man obsessed and Law is effective in the role.

There are some genuinely scary moments and I jumped several times, holding my breath when lies are exposed and the smell of death hovers in the ever-claustrophobic surrounds. Ilan Eshkeri's music score is superb: eerie, confronting and always enhancing the emotions at play.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The hidden treasure genre is full of inventive stories and this is yet another one, a smart screenplay that pushes all the right elements to the fore, from the desperate hero to the disparate and dangerous team he recruits for the mission, to the stinging tale of a haul of gold bullion. Dennis Kelly's taut screenplay is given fittingly taut direction from Kevin Macdonald, who thrives on cinematic tension (eg Touching the Void, 2003).

Jude Law is outstanding as the Scottish Captain Robinson, tough but given to nostalgic fantasies about his ex wife and young son playing on the beach. It's an overused device but it works here because it's not just a device; there is a story point to it that underpins the emotional payoff of the ending. Ben Mendelsohn gets a decent amount of screen-time as Fraser the (evidently Australian) psycho, and he deserves it, as do all the supports, like Scoot McNairy as Daniels, something of an irritating stooge. Also notable are Michael Smiley as Reynolds and Grigoriy Dobrygin as Morozov, one of the Russians on the quickly assembled rag-tag team hired to take the rusty old Russian submarine out of mothballs onto this treasure hunt.

The tension ebbs and flows as the internal imbalance among the crew matches the dangers outside under the Black Sea.

Excellent action scenes in the claustrophobic confines of the sub mark the film's many technical achievements, from sound and music to design. It's a best to take some popcorn to avoid biting your fingernails.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

BLACK SEA (M)
(US, 2014)

CAST: Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Tobias Menzies, Michael Smiley, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Ben Mendelsohn, Jodie Whittaker

PRODUCER: Kevin Macdonald, Charles Steel

DIRECTOR: Kevin Macdonald

SCRIPT: Dennis Kelly

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Christopher Ross

EDITOR: Justine Wright

MUSIC: Ilan Eshkeri

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Nick Palmer

RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: EOne

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 9, 2015







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