It’s often been said that we know less about what goes on under water than what happens in space, and it’s this sense of unknowing, unfamiliarity and foreboding that director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, Touching the Void) runs with in The Black Sea.
Robinson (Jude Law) has just been let go from his job as a Marine Salvage officer, a man who regularly works on submarines salvaging scraps form the ocean floor. It’s a highly thankless task. His work leaves him little time for a personal life, and he now rarely sees his estranged wife and son. So it comes as a bitter blow to him he is unceremoniously let go. With little monetary compensation and only the companionship of his fellow unemployed friends (Konstantin Khabenskiy as Blackie and Daniel Ryan as Kurston), also Marine Salvage guys, they hatch a plan to unearth, from the bottom of the Black Sea in south-eastern Europe, Nazi gold long forgotten by both the Russians and the Germans. The bounty’s pretty good, and Robinson and Co. gather a motley crew for their team. Things go a bit (OK, like, a lot) SNAFU when, underwater and enclosed in a decades-old submarine, greed, murder, double-crossing and a big fat chunk of everyone’s egos gets tossed into the mix, making the film less about the bounty and more about the drama between the men.
Sounds like a boy’s own adventure film, right? Yeh, in some ways it is a little bit, but in other ways it’s a little more riveting than that. A simple get-rich-quick plan goes horribly wrong, but rather than it being a straight disaster-in-unknown-territory sci-fi film like Event Horizon (totally understand that one is based in space and one is underwater, but still), it delves into the motivation of the men on board gives the audience a chance to see a little bit of ourselves in some of them. It’s a theme that’s been done before (perfectly in TV’s Breaking Bad), and here it works too. How desperate do you have to be to do things you’ve never done before? Who will you eliminate along the way, and why does it mean so much?
Anyone who’s seen The Last King of Scotland knows that Kevin Macdonald doesn’t shy away from exploring the good and bad in his characters, and this film is a perfect example of that. Jude Law as out-of-luck Robinson is the film’s definitive “good guy”, and Scoot McNairy as smarmy businessman Daniels is the film’s nemesis, the man hated so much that the submarine’s crew call him “The Banker” because he’s all about the money. But Macdonald, with screenplay written by Dennis Kelly (mostly known for his TV scriptwriting work including Utopia and Pulling) is able to deliver multi- dimensional characters, and the cast make good on this direction.
Standout performances go to three people, and surprisingly one of them is not Jude Law (although he did alright). Ben Mendelsohn as the explosive Fraser is amazing, and he keeps his Aussie accent in the film too. What you’ll love about Fraser is that although he’s a bit of a loose cannon, there is a bit of Fraser in all of us when the going gets tough. “Fraser wants to go out and get what’s his, have a shot at his dream. But he has a temper. I wanted to make plausible why he feels a certain way, or how something has a different meaning to him than it does to others around him”, Mendelsohn says. Newcomer Bobby Schofield as Tobin is the film’s moral compass. He’s the youngest crewmember, and in real life the youngest cast member. It’s through Tobin that we see what they are really all fighting for, and it’s Tobin’s naivety that ultimately gets him through in the end. Lastly, Grigoriy Dobrygin as Morozov is the film’s voice of reason, the one the audience relies on to pull us back to reality (don’t be crazy, Tobin, there’s no escape hatch!), and he does an exceptional job of this.
Expect much more than simply adventures on the high seas in Black Sea. What lies below the water’s surface is so much more interesting.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 114 minutes
Black Sea is screening Australian cinemas from 9th April 2015 through Entertainment One