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August 14, 2016

Black Sea

by Franz Patrick


Black Sea (2014)
★ / ★★★★

Robinson (Jude Law) is let go from his job despite having been with the company for more than a decade. Hoping to provide for his young son, Robinson accepts a job from a mysterious financial backer which involves searching for a German U-boat located ninety meters from the surface of the Black Sea, supposedly containing two tons of gold—worth at least eighty million dollars. Robinson’s condition: Half of the men in the submarine will be British and the other half Russian. Each one gets equal pay after the backer gets his share.

Written by Dennis Kelly and directed by Kevin Macdonald, “Black Sea” starts off promisingly because it is able to lay out its protagonist’s motivation leading up to his decision to take on a near-impossible task. However, once the characters are inside the submarine, the mystery and intrigue dissipate. Instead, there is a lot of arguing between the British and the Russians—which is not compelling because someone is either wrong or right. There is little gray and so the picture is reduced to a bore.

We learn close to nothing about the men in the submarine. Out of them all, I could name up to about three, if that, because the screenplay never gives each one a chance to say or do something important. I was reduced to assigning them names like “The One with the Beard” or “The Corpulent Russian Guy Who Grunts.” Although the material tries to tell a human story, especially when it tries to introduce the idea that the rich tend to prey upon the poor, the attempt is fleeting, marginal, and weak. The drama is not there to keep the film tense or at least superficially interesting.

The moments of danger lack a sense of urgency. Eventually, three characters end up in the dark waters with cliffs separating life and death. It is strange to watch because the camera seems stuck on having the camera about two to three feet away from the characters—five feet at most. Thus, we do not really get a sense of the danger and how insignificant the men are compared to the utter darkness surrounding them. The lack of perspective hinders the picture from becoming suspenseful or thrilling.

Although Law delivers a pretty good performance, so versatile when delivering strength and despair, the writing is so shallow and transparent that we can easily tell who will die or be killed next about two or three scenes prior to the fact. As a result, we go through the by-the-numbers dialogue and passively wait for an event that we know is going to happen soon. One gets the impression that this is a nervous filmmaker’s first-time foray into helming a dramatic suspense-thriller—not at all the case because this picture is from a filmmaker who made “Touching the Void” and “The Last King of Scotland.”

“Black Sea” has very few redeeming qualities and so it is not worth sitting through two hours. The director’s cut of the excellent “Das Boot,” also taking place in a confined space, is three hours and thirty minutes long and that picture feels short compared to this one. Why? Because “Das Boot” commands what “Black Sea” lacks: a genuine sense of claustrophobia because every piece of item within the vessel looks and feels real, fascinating characters who are forced to make complicated choices, and their actions have such large rippling effects that we are exhausted—in a good way—by the trials they go through. My advice: Discover or revisit “Das Boot” instead.

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