Sunday 21 June 2015

Black Sea

The ocean is fascinating. It takes up approximately 70% of the Earth’s surface. Isn’t that amazing? It contains 97% of the world’s water. Wow! The pressure at the deepest point in the ocean is the equivalent of one person trying to support 50 jumbo jets. Holy moly! But hey, enough of the nautical facts. I have a review to write. And I knew those facts off the top of my head, I didn’t get them from ‘Ocean Facts for Kids’…Anyway! 

Out now on DVD & Blu-ray and directed by Kevin MacDonald of The Last King of Scotland fame comes Black Sea. Is it a deep and thrilling piece of sea-nema (cinema, chortle chortle), or does it sink?  “What is Black Sea about”, I hear you cry! Let me tell you. After a longtime salvage operator named Robinson (Jude Law) is let go from his job and falls on hard times, he learns of a very inviting opportunity: the whereabouts of a sunken Nazi submarine rumoured to be carrying millions in gold bars. Financially backed by a mysterious benefactor, Robinson gathers a crew, equally British and Russian, and sets off for the gold in a rusty old submarine. But greed, claustrophobia and disagreements push the crew to breaking point before they can come close to the gold.

Black Sea takes place almost entirely in a dark, tight submarine. As such, the film is a dialogue and performance driven piece and the cast need to carry the film. Do they succeed? Firstly, Jude Law continues to shake his pretty boy persona (after Dom Hemingway) delivering a solid performance as Robinson; the short-tempered and short-haired rough Scottish captain. Law steps slightly out of his comfort zone for this film and rises to the challenge. However, despite the marketing suggesting that this is Law’s film, Black Sea is really an ensemble piece. For me, the film belonged to Ben Mendelsohn who delivers another in a long line of fine performances as the slightly psychopathic arsehole Fraser; seemingly intent on sabotaging the mission through a series of bad decisions. Scoot McNairy, Hollywood’s current ‘that guy’, is doing what he does best here – y’know…being that guy. Michael Smiley (Tyres from Spaced) is great, too. After his performances in this and Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England, he’s one of England’s best character actors. Throw in a handful of Russians and a lad from Liverpool, and you’ve got your cast. A decent cast they are, too. They all have great chemistry with each other and deliver fine performances throughout. Without these fine performances, Black Sea would’ve fallen apart. Why? Because outside of the pretty decent atmospheric lighting and cinematography, there really isn’t much else to praise.

Black Sea is, narratively, a bit of a mess. There’s a hell of a lot of predictability and cliché, characters’ motives seem to be all over the place with little explanation, twists come at you out of nowhere with no build-up and thus have no impact, and the pacing goes from slow and uneventful to ridiculously rushed and irritating. Fletcher from Whiplash would have a meltdown watching this film – is it rushing, or is it dragging?! It’s no spoiler to say they find the gold – it’s on the back of the damn DVD case – and the way this is handled is ridiculous. After subtly building up the treasure as being elusive and difficult to find, they stumble upon it without barely having looked. It basically plays out like this – “This gold will be very hard to find, we’ll probably never find it, it might not even be there, it’s been hidden for so lon-OH, HERE IT IS! FOUND IT! FOUND IT!” It’s rather anti-climactic and happens too early. Then the film gets even more manic with more shifting motives and character roles among the crew – basically, goodies become baddies and vice versa. Several times.

Look, I wanted to like Black Sea. I really did. It looked like it was going to be The Thing underwater. I don’t mean I was expecting a shapeshifting alien creature being a dick in a submarine; but I was expecting a story about the effects of isolation, claustrophobia, trust and (in this case) greed among a small group of men. But I didn’t get that. I got a rather messy, generic, forgettable thriller. Like I said, films like this are performance driven and Black Sea succeeds in this area fantastically well. It’s just unfortunate that it fails everywhere else. 

Black Sea sinks to the depths of an abyss of mediocrity, and earns 2/5.


Sam Love

Black Sea at CeX

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