'Black Sea' skims surface 

click to enlarge Jude Law plays a submarine explorer on a troubled hunt for gold in the tepid thriller “Black Sea.” - COURTESY FOCUS FEATURES
  • Jude Law plays a submarine explorer on a troubled hunt for gold in the tepid thriller “Black Sea.”
Cramped are the quarters and mutinous are the men. The submarine thriller is back, and it comes in the form of “Black Sea.” Those seeking a big-screen diversion in this month notorious for studio dreck could do far worse than this competently steered, claustrophobic adventure. But better fare exists in the subgenre catalog, and implausibility problems make this movie only partially compelling.

Directed by Kevin Macdonald (“Touching the Void”) and written by playwright Dennis Kelly, the film adds heist and class-war to the submarine formula and seems inspired by “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and “The Dirty Dozen.” In a cosmos where all are male and without first names, Jude Law plays a Scottish submarine pilot called Robinson.

Laid off by his salvage-company employer, Robinson learns of a sunken Nazi U-boat containing gold bricks galore while drinking with other casualties of capitalism. Not wanting to flip burgers for a living, he decides to go after the loot. Funding arrives through a slippery American (Scoot McNairy).

Robinson assembles a crew of 12, half English-speaking and half Russian. He obtains a wartime submarine. Into the Black Sea they go.

Disaster happens, naturally. The Brits and Russians hate each other. Robinson’s plan to give everyone an equal share of the gold incenses some of the men. A few ponder murderous schemes that would increase their take. Violence and flooding occur. Robinson starts behaving desperately.

Once you get past the notion that, for a dangerous mission in a no-exit sub, a seasoned seaman like Robinson would employ a knife-carrying diver described as a “psychopath” (Ben Mendelsohn), an old-timer with emphysema (David Threlfall), and an 18-year-old (Bobby Schofield) with a pregnant girlfriend and no nautical experience, the film supplies some thrills.

Macdonald steers the action suspensefully.

Cinematographer Christopher Ross’ camera seems jammed into the confined passageways and control rooms of the rusty sub. Stark red lighting and shaky camerawork achieve a tone of urgency.

A group of middle-aged have-nots refusing to take it anymore gives the recipe a little novelty. But as the plot becomes increasingly preposterous, and characters’ personality shifts defy credibility, the movie loses its grip.

Attempts to insert some heart into the sweaty dynamics, via fatherly feelings Robinson develops for Schofield’s character, and flashbacks of an ex-wife at the beach, are cliched.

As submarine thrillers go, the film soars over “Phantom” but lacks the impact of not only “Das Boot” but Hollywood hits like “The Hunt for Red October.”


Black Sea

two and a half stars

Starring Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, David Threlfall

Written by Dennis Kelly

Directed by Kevin Macdonald

Rated R

Running time 1 hour, 54 minutes

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Anita Katz

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