Synopsis: A suspenseful adventure thriller directed by Academy Award winner Kevin Macdonald, centering on a rogue submarine captain (two-time Academy Award nominee Jude Law) who pulls together a misfit crew to go after a sunken treasure rumored to be lost in the depths of the Black Sea. As greed and desperation take control onboard their claustrophobic vessel, the increasing uncertainty of the mission causes the men to turn on each other to fight for their own survival.
Release Date: January 30, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Action
Although director Kevin Macdonald has had great success with narrative features like The Last King of Scotland and How I Live Now, he is still regarded as a great documentary filmmaker because of his work on non-fiction films like Marley and One Day in September. His knack for storytelling coupled with his penchant for realism come together in his newest movie, the submarine treasure hunt film Black Sea.
Black Sea stars Jude Law (Dom Hemingway) as Robinson, a British submarine captain who gets laid off from his job at a salvage company. Knowing that he is desperate for money, an American businessman named Daniels (Scoot McNairy from Frank) finds him a hot tip about a Russian WWII submarine full of gold bars that sunk somewhere in the Black Sea. After finding a shady financial backer and a rickety old submarine, Robinson assembles a half British/half Russian crew of sailors and sets off to search for the lost treasure, promising each man on board an equal share of the bounty. The treacherous waters turn out to be the least of the sub’s problems, however, as the crew turns on one another when they realize that their share would be greater if there were less people around to share the money. Robinson has no idea who he can trust as he tries to keep his crew from murdering each other while they look for their fabled submarine full of gold.
Screenwriter Dennis Kelly has done some writing in British television for the shows “Pulling” and “Utopia,” but the screenplay for Black Sea is his first feature film. The movie has a cool retro-modern vibe to it, reminiscent of the classic treasure hunt movies of the seventies and eighties without feeling too derivative. The story follows some of the same tropes and trappings of the typical submarine adventures like The Hunt for Red October and Das Boot, but doesn’t take itself quite as seriously. At its heart, it’s a heist movie, with a rag-tag group of miscreants sneaking around trying to steal a cache of gold from under the noses of its rightful owner. But, more than all of this, Black Sea is an insightful exploration of human nature, showing what happens when good men choose between their own greed and the necessity of cooperation.
Thanks to a clever combination of writing, acting, and direction, Black Sea is a tense and exciting film. Like, edge-of-your-seat tense and exciting. It’s visually stunning, but it’s also a very cerebral film, concentrating on the evils of men as well as the evils of Mother Nature. It lacks originality in some places, but it is, for the most part, a very well made film, packed to the gills with a whole lot of suspense and intrigue. Black Sea is a real nail biter.
Much of the authenticity and realism that Macdonald is able to create in Black Sea is due to the casting. Put simply, the Russian characters are played by Russian actors and the British characters are played by British, Irish, and Australian actors. Among the Russian actors are Konstantin Khabenskiy (Night Watch and Day Watch) and Grigoriy Dobrygin (A Most Wanted Man), while the British characters are portrayed by the likes of Michael Smiley (A Field in England) and Ben Mendelsohn (Killer Elite). The Russians speak Russian the entire time, and the language barrier creates a natural divide between the different factions on the sub; the tension between the members of the crew is escalated by the lack of communication, and the cast plays into it perfectly.
Although Jude Law is the obvious lead, every cast member in Black Sea is onscreen for much of the movie; in the close confines of the sub, crew members are in the backgrounds and on the sidelines of just about every scene. This supplies a chemistry in the cast that falls somewhere between camaraderie and hostility, with the men basically living on top of each other and hating each other, but also needing each other. The feeling of anxiety and paranoia is an important element of Black Sea, and the ensemble cast delivers that feeling in spades.
For Black Sea, Kevin Macdonald turned to cinematographer Christopher Ross (Eden Lake) to capture the paranoid claustrophobia of the submarine. The film was partially shot on an actual WWII submarine, which gives it an extremely authentic look and feel – when the actors bump their heads on the ceiling or struggle to walk past each other in a corridor, there is no need to oversell it because those moments are real. Ross used small hi-tech 4K cameras that he handheld himself to shoot the movie, so the images, shaky and unsettling, put the viewer right inside of the submarine with the crew. The claustrophobic feeling is emphasized further by Ross’ use of tight shots and shallow focus that make even the scenes that were shot on a huge soundstage look like they took place in a miniscule space. The suspenseful situations are written into the script of Black Sea, but the tension in the film is a direct result of Christopher Ross’ photography.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Kevin Macdonald
- Screenwriter(s): Dennis Kelly
- Cast: Jude Law (Captain Robinson)Jodie Whittaker (Chrissy)Scott McNairy (Daniels) Ben Mendelsohn (Fraser)Tobias Menzies (Lewis)Grigoriy (Dobrygin)
- Cinematographer: Christopher Ross
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Ilan Eshkeri
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA