As the day begins for Robinson (this film is about manly men at sea, so last names only, thank you), he’s fired from his job as a submarine captain for a salvage company. “I lost my family to this job,” he crustily says, immediately making us question his values. It’s the only job he’s ever known — what’s he to do now?
Hunt for treasure, that’s what. Black Sea follows Robinson (Jude Law) as he assembles a team of 12 seafarers to search for two tons of gold allegedly left behind by Hitler in the depths of the Black Sea. The crew is the expected mix of jaded veterans, wide-eyed newbies, cantankerous old cranks and a chef who spits on the food to clean it.
Robinson believes he knows where the gold is and leads the men accordingly, but tension and greed among the six British and six Russians on board suggest not all of them will make it through the quest alive. Still, as predictable and inexplicable as it is at times, the suspense is palpable as the situation worsens. We rarely get a break from the claustrophobic confines of the submarine. It’s dark, dank and must smell awful, giving it an authentic feeling and, at the same time, making it a place I’d never want to be.
Director Kevin Macdonald is steady and assured as he fashions the submarine into both another character and a metaphor. The cavernous walls, outdated technology and years of rust and decay within the submarine frequently remind us that where the submariners are is just as dangerous as their clear dislike for one another. And the vessel malfunctions repeatedly, spawning high panic each time.
Accordingly, the deeper the submarine sinks, the more despair seeps into its crew — note how the morale and desperation of the men get worse as the sub reaches new depths. This is a subtle touch, but something a skilled filmmaker should be able to pull off, and Macdonald succeeds here.
Less successful, frustratingly, are the actors’ accents, many of which are thick and difficult to understand. Even Law, whose character is the sturdy no-nonsense leader, sports a thick Scottish burr — words tumble indiscernibly from the side of his mouth. It’s important to commit to your character, but not to the point that you lose the audience.
Still, this is a tense, gritty drama that asks us to embrace all the gruff machismo it throws our way. They’re all flawed men from the start, and adding the element of avarice makes them dangerous. You don’t necessarily expect a study in human nature from Black Sea, but it’s these nuances that make it a film worth watching.