Director: Kevin Macdonald
Cast: Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn
Watch Black Sea online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW TV / iTunes / TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Last year year, it was announced that Dennis Kelly’s TV series, Utopia, had been dropped by Channel 4. It was tragic news for fans of the show, and TV in general, as the British thriller was brutal, important viewing; not because of its nasty violence, but because it never shied away from dark social truths. It’s a pleasure, then, to see his name on the script for Black Sea.
The film follows a disgruntled submarine captain (Jude Law), who takes drastic action after being fired. The plan? Round up the gang, track down an old, abandoned Soviet sub and seize the Nazi bullion left there in WWII.
Nazis? Submarines? Hidden treasure? If your mind is floating back to the days of 40s adventures, you’re definitely on the right ship: Kevin Macdonald helms this with the kind of zip you’d expect from an Indiana Jones romp, not letting the pace slow below 35 knots.
But this is Indiana filtered through the dark mind of Dennis Kelly; a dystopian take on a matinee flick. That gives Black Sea its own anaerobic vibe, one that sucks out the breath of adventure with a long, wheezing dive.
Jude Law’s Scottish accent may be more Shrek than Sean Connery, but he’s a great fit for the obsessed captain, his receding hairline only adding to the air of failed ambition. He’s supported by a fantastic crew, from Michael Smiley’s typically twisted comic relief to Scoot McNairy’s slippery man in a suit, whose there to bankroll the operation but doesn’t have the stomach for small spaces.
That’s where Kelly strikes home, in the claustrophobic contrast between the rich and the poor; the employers and the (ex-)workers. With everyone promised an equal share of the booty, that communal ideal is corrupted by individual greed, as people realise that you don’t have to be a banker to be a bastard. As the tensions rub the characters the wrong way, Ben Mendelsohn emerges to steal the show. Ever since Animal Kingdom, he’s perfected a certain type of unbalanced male man, but put among an emsemble of equally aggressive people, he torpedoes the lot with eye-boggling intensity.
It could descend into dumb cliche or heavy-handed Ken Loach commentary, but it’s testament to Macdonald that he reins everything in, keeping things entertaining and (just) believable, even as the mildly daft final act – complete with forced familial sentiment – arrives. The result is a enjoyably old-fashioned thriller that relies on people rather than pyrotechnics. In an age of loud, bombastic blockbusters, Black Sea admirably sinks to explore the depths of humanity. Not everything it finds may be solid gold, but this is highly pressurised stuff.
Black Sea is available on Sky Movies – and, for non-Sky customers, on NOW TV, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription.
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