Nutshell: Black Sea tries to be Das Boot or Crimson Tide, but doesn’t quite hit the mark in terms of thrills. Jude Law’s performance is excellent, true. But I still can’t help but want more. Black Sea feels like an 80s thriller dragged into the 21st Century, and it suffers for the trip. Grade: C
It’s tough in the 21st Century, coming up with bad guys that aren’t zombies or too-easily-reached-for terrorist threats. Black Sea decides on two ol’ favorites; Big Business and Fear Of Russia. Well, that second one is sorta iffy, but hear me out.
Robinson (Jude Law) gets the boot from the salvage company he’s work for for years. Seems they don’t want to deal with submarine salvage anymore, and as that’s Robinson’s gig? Asta. But as he realizes the incredibly tenuous grasp he has on the roof over his head, Robinson’s friend/former co-worker gives him info on a possible huge score. Seems a German U-boat (read: sub) sank in the waters of Russia back in the WWII day. Said boat was loaded with gold, from the Russians to the Nazis. But the boat sank, and as water rights drifted back and forth (heh), this boat became a legend, that faded away in memory. If they had a sub — and a crew to steer ‘er by — they could find the gold and make a mint, as long as they stay off the radar of Russian ships in the area. Too good to be true? Of course it is. The half Brit, half Russian crew start to mistrust each other, and then their own sub begins to have trouble. Big trouble. If they find the gold, will they live to spend it?
Director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, State of Play), likes a slow burn in his thrillers, and that’s definitely here in Black Sea. If you fear tight spaces — or being sunk out at sea — you’ll definitely get chills. Art direction and set design is incredible, considering only a part of the film was shot on an actual sub. Law delivers a first-class performance, with his paranoia and desperation showing on his face rather than “Heeeere’s Johnny” theatrics.
Scoot McNairy (no, not making this up) is wonderfully self-serving as the guy who comes along to safeguard their backer’s investment. And the overall chemistry between the ensemble cast is believable, and at times even fun to watch. Thrillers that inject a touch of levity? Win.
So why didn’t I absolutely love it? Five words: I kept checking my watch.
Thrillers should keep you on the edge of your seat, or at least glued to the screen. But less than an hour in, I took a peek to see where we were on time. I rarely do that. So it’s a death knell. The second toll of that bell? I figured it was at least an hour and a half in. It’s bad enough I checked, worse that it was less than an hour in. Everything should have kept me glued. But there was something about the pacing that just didn’t add up. Plus, there were a few times where Cliche Horror Movie Decisions reared their ugly head. Not great in horror, but really bad ideas outside of the genre that birthed ‘em. My two least favorite:
*Hey, we need a certain amount of people here, or we’ll all die. Why don’t I get someone to kill someone else?
* We’re really, really close to a cliff. We need to get away or someone may fall. Let’s keep going and see what happens!
And that kills a film for me. Black Sea is a mashup of thriller and serious thought piece. Pity the two don’t mesh the way Macdonald had hoped.