Now if you told me that Jude Law was going to play in a submarine movie where he was the disgruntled skipper, I wouldn’t believe you. That is until I saw Black Sea, a 2015 thriller focused on a crew of British and Russian pirates hunting for treasure in dangerous political waters. There have been some pretty captivating submarine films, such as U-571 and The Hunt for Red October, though that does mean that Black Sea has a high bar to reach.
Law plays Robinson, a disgruntled submarine captain tired of the higher ups stepping all over him. Given the opportunity of a lifetime, Daniels (Scoot McNairy) offers him a job to help steal gold from an undiscovered Nazi submarine in the Russian Black Sea. Taking a crew of both Russian and British mariners, Robinson will find out that the depths surrounding them is not the truly terrifying thing.
The set-up is standard fare and the movie starts off fairly slow setting up Robinson and Daniels. As the movie progressed onward towards the treasure, it manages to retain a sense of suspense with the excellent cinematography. It feels claustrophobic, and is a valiant effort to keep one’s interest through the painfully slow first half. Black Sea would have been a great thriller if it had managed to retain a steady intriguing pace. The problem comes at times with the supporting cast, which was quite spotty mixed with both interesting characters and bland one-dimensional stereotypes. The interactions that take up the first half focus too heavily on meaningless interaction that feels corny in moments. It is only after those moments that this becomes an enticing thriller. My hat goes off to Ben Mendelsohn, as his performance as Fraser was one of the more complex and compelling characters besides Law’s Robinson. The second half becomes this mixture of racism, politics and classism. It is what makes such a claustrophobic thriller so enticing. Everyone’s inner demons come out in the depths of the Black Sea. It really is fascinating to see who you can really trust and who is really pulling the strings. This is really where it takes its strides, but having to wait about an hour before it does really is a major hindrance to the overall quality.
Black Sea’s sound design was spot on, allowing only the natural sounds to be heard in its most tense scenes. The high points of the movie were where you could hear the creaking of the submarine, as the montage of reaction shots went by. This brought a great sense of isolation and desperation to the setting. The set design and the atmosphere really were the true stars of the movie. When the crew enter the submarine, you can feel the claustrophobia creeping into ever scene thereafter. All it takes is a spark to kick off a fantastic chain of events, if only it could have been more interesting in its build-up.
The last quarter of the movie is where it finds its saving grace. Wrapping up a lot of character arcs with great lines of dialogue, Black Sea manages to keep me captivated. Law’s great performance was what managed to keep this rollercoaster grounded in suspense. If the pacing was far smoother and half of the supporting cast was replaced with Ben Mendelsohns or complex characters, this would have been a great thriller. Instead we just get a good one not really reaching the heights of Connery, but just matching McConaughey. Black Sea is an entertaining and suspenseful submarine ride into classism and economic disputes in its final half, but lacks a strong beginning bogged down by pacing issues and lack of captivating storytelling.