Jude Law Submarines a Passable But Unspectacular ‘Black Sea’

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Average: 5 (1 vote)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.5/5.0
Rating: 2.5/5.0

CHICAGO – I’m on board with Jude Law leading a film and neutral about submarine movies as a genre. My primary pre-screening interest in the quietly marketed thriller “Black Sea” was what Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald would do with this material following his hit with the hard-hitting drama “The Last King of Scotland”.

As it turns out, Jude Law as a desperate, angry and greedy skipper is not nearly as impactful as Forest Whitaker’s brutal Ugandan dictator. And “Black Sea,” which dives down to oceanic hull break point, isn’t propelled by nearly as deep of a story as the Oscar-winning Whitaker film.

Jude Law in Black Sea
Jude Law stars as Robinson: a rogue submarine captain after sunken treasure in the Black Sea in “Black Sea”.
Image credit: Giles Keyte, Focus Features

As for standing the test of time, “Black Sea” won’t. The film will not appear on favorite submarine film lists in the company of greats including “The Hunt for Red October,” “Crimson Tide,” “U-571,” “K-19: The Widow Maker,” “The Abyss” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”.

While the film only grazes the surface of where these kinds of films need to go, “Black Sea” does make you feel claustrophobic and its metallic pings give you a realistic front-row seat to sweaty and stressful submarine life.

The way the crew gets mashed together, though, feels rushed and overwritten. All down on their luck and strapped for cash, a few guys talk over booze about a mythical gold haul left for the ocean to swallow and no man to ever find. Back during Nazi Germany, Hitler apparently stuffs a U-boat full of gold bricks. Of course, Jude Law and friends think they know how and where to unearth it even though no one else ever has.

Jude Law in Black Sea
Jude Law in “Black Sea”.
Image credit: Alex Bailey, Focus Features

Deciding to go for the gold isn’t a decision I had a hard time buying into. Fine, doing so gives this relatively shallow story some life. It’s the assemblage of a few good men who bridge a murky English/Russian language gap that I can’t come to terms with. The film hurries through the rounding up of them as if they were waiting for the call and had nothing else going on in life.

A quick cheerleading speech from Captain Robinson (Jude Law) sends our gaggle of greedy men on their way into rough waters – immediately battling with irrational tension. I fail to believe that these guys would squabble over such petty disagreements when each person is promised a life-changing $2 million from the gold stash to get the deed done.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sure both of us wouldn’t plunge a knife in a dude’s chest when he was just giving us a little bit of ‘tude. Instead, hopefully we’d cool down our artificially heightened nerves and think about all the cars and cookies we could buy with our share of the pirate’s booty. Rather than simply working together, this crew skirmishes with one other as opposed to focusing on beating all-powerful Mother Nature.

Jude Law in Black Sea
Jude Law in “Black Sea”.
Image credit: Focus Features

A good captain would have quickly quelled crew tensions or picked a more compatible team in the first place. Instead, the internal battle feels like a cheap, go-to Hollywood trick to cause disingenuous drama. And why Jude Law only feels emotional about an out-of-place boy who joins the crew is a red herring that gives us no insight into him.

“Black Sea” succeeds as a dramatic, tension-packed thriller when it’s focusing on the old sub itself: running it, fixing it, breaking it and trying to patch it back together. And walking outside the submarine to find the fabled gold is equally exciting as men try to think on the fly and priorities are tested. The film succeeds in giving us a sense of loneliness and hopelessness much like we felt with Sandra Bullock all alone in space in “Gravity”.

But “Black Sea” fails most grievously with its logic. There’s nothing worse than a horror film that makes the dumb, dispensable character open a door into what will obviously be a room of death instead of simply turning around, driving safely to a nearby Krispy Kreme and noshing on some delicious Boston cream donuts. So many lives could have been spared in horror films if characters simply decided to indulge in more sugar.

Divers in Black Sea
Divers search for sunken treasure in the depths of the Black Sea in “Black Sea”.
Image credit: Focus Features

Back to the topic at hand, it’s beyond frustrating to sit in the audience and watch a stupid character do something you know he or she just shouldn’t do. Perhaps don’t go for the gold – or all of it – and live? I know that’s a novel concept that wouldn’t make for gripping drama, but gripping drama must also employ realism for things real people would actually do and not do.

“Black Sea” also muddies itself with some submarine facts – with some key research missing or misunderstood – as well as the business of the entire mission. The film attempts a twist through a double-crossing, deceitful business deal. I attempted to make sense of it with a fellow critic after my screening, but found myself shooting so many holes in it and not caring to understand.

While “Black Sea” physically dives deep, all in all the story is shallow, the character’s motivations are irrational and much of the drama is forced. The star of the film is the old, rickety submarine and the tension only she provides.

“Black Sea” stars Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Jodie Whittaker, Tobias Menzies, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Michael Smiley, Karl Davies, Konstantin Khabenskiy and Daniel Ryan from director Kevin Macdonald and writer Dennis Kelly. The film, which has a running time of 115 minutes, is rated “R” for language throughout, some graphic images and violence. “Black Sea” opened in Chicago on Jan. 30, 2015.

HollywoodChicago.com publisher Adam Fendelman


© 2015 Adam Fendelman, HollywoodChicago.com LLC

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