Twitter Plot Summary: A group of disillusioned and out of work sailors go in search of lost Nazi gold on a submarine in the Black Sea.
It’s been quite a while since the last decent submarine movie. U-571 failed to hit the mark and it’s possibly as far back as Crimson Tide that the genre last had a certified hit on its hands. Black Sea goes back to all of those standard submarine tropes that are a great setting for drama. A group of men trapped together in a tin coffin, down in the depths of the ocean where tempers can fray in an instant
The principle idea behind Black Sea is an intriguing one. A group of men from a naval background, finding themselves out of work and put upon by “The Man”, unite to seek out a mythical Nazi submarine lost in the Black Sea with a huge amount of gold bullion stored in its hold. The group are led by Jude Law’s Captain Robinson, a man who has recently been laid off from his job after 11 years. He leads a crew of handpicked sailors, all at the bottom of the barrel like him, and made up from an even mixture of British and Russian sailors. Instantly, you can tell there’s going to be a bit of tension there already.
And to its credit, Black Sea does feature an impressive amount of dramatic tension, filled with twists, turns and character developments so you’re never quite sure who, besides the young naive Scouser Liam (Karl Davies), you should be rooting for. The ever reliable Michael Smiley, the potentially insane Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot McNairy holding up the English speaking side of the journey, whilst solid character acting from the likes of Grigoriy Dobrygin, Sergey Puskepalis and Sergey Kolesnikov bolster the Russian ranks, even if they don’t have much to do besides talk in Russian and gesture at the English speaking cast.
It’s another example of the submarine almost being a character in itself, an old rust bucket that may just fall apart at any moment. Combine this with the subtext-laden name of the company who fired Robinson in the first place, Agoro, and all soon becomes clear. Agorophobia, the fear of open spaces or being in a situation you can’t escape from, perfectly describes this journey, both literally in the submarine and figuratively in their personal journeys. One way or another, they are all trapped.
Despite the enclosed setting there’s still plenty of room for some decent action beats. A walk on the sea bed is a tense endeavour, and the threat posed by the characters too each other always threatens to erupt into something more. Unfortunately Black Sea is let down in a few areas by never truly settling on its tone, moments of dark humour contrasting starkly with the bleak attitudes of the characters and a script that seems desperate to avoid pitching the characters as two dimensional obsessives yet ends up falling into that exact trap it was trying to avoid. The Russians, almost by necessity, are underdeveloped, and the English speaking crew barely fare any better. Still, the tense atmosphere makes up for this and while it won’t be challenging Das Boot for best submarine film, it’s a solid thriller regardless.