Black Sea review

>Black Sea is a tense, claustrophobic thriller mostly set on a rickety old submarine that’s up to no good in Russian waters. The latest outing for Law, it sees him play a tough-as-nails Scot who’s down on his luck. His wife has left him, he can’t see his son, and he is laid off from his job, where he works at sea for a salvage company. What better time to have a mid-life crisis and embark on a dangerous treasure hunt?

Once you get past the initial shock of Law talking in a brusque Scottish accent, and through the first twenty minutes of clumsily setting up the story, it gets pretty good. But it’s a bumpy ride to begin with. It feels a lot like the writers got carried away coming up with a great script all set on a submarine, then realised just before the deadline that they’d forgotten to write a first act introducing the protagonist and why everyone’s underwater.

But after Law assembles his rag tag crew, half British, half Russian (you can see where that one’s going) to man a rusty old World War II submarine and search for a stash of lost Soviet gold, this film really comes into its own.

I absolutely love that this is a good, old-fashioned treasure hunt for gold. No complicated goal, no clever motives, just straight up bullion. Like Law’s protagonist, Black Sea is simple, sticks to the basics, and does them well. Director Kevin Macdonald masterfully creates suspense throughout, and makes the most of the restrictive locations to bring the audience into the melee. The editing perfectly follows the beats needed to sustain tension just long enough to have the audience feeling uncomfortable, before plunging into action.

The crew are mostly gruff, beardy old men who argue and moan a lot, and we spend the best part of two hours in dark, cramped rooms with them. So you won’t get rolling, expansive visuals. You won’t even get particularly nuanced characters. But what you will get is some fantastic acting and brilliant depth of emotion. We see the crew’s initial optimism turn to greed and desperation, and because we rarely leave the confines of the sub, we see it all in nervously up-close detail.

Black Sea is the kind of film I’d get quite excited about if I saw it was on telly one evening, but not visually stimulating enough to go to the cinema for. And although the mood is pretty serious throughout, there were two laugh-out-loud moments to provide a brief respite to the overwhelming tension. As they first board the submarine and McNairy’s unlikeable financier voices his concerns that it isn’t sea worthy by exclaiming “It’s gonna sink!”, the comic timing of the old crew member who retorts is spot on when he sneers: “It’d be a fucking useless submarine if it didn’t.”

Black Sea at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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