If sweaty, angry men confined in a small space yelling at each other is your thing, then I highly recommend Black Sea, a very tense submarine thriller that has echoes of The Treasure of Sierra Madre and Wages of Fear. It’s directed by Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland) and scripted by Denis Kelly (Utopia).
Jude Law – with a bizarre Scottish accent that roams all over the highlands and stops off at the Outer Hebrides – is Robinson, a marine salvage expert who is fired by his company after years of service. Chunkier, more grizzled, and with less hair than usual, Law is surprisingly good at playing one of those hard, sinewy men who is married to the sea (his wife has left him) and bitter at how blokes like him do all the hard work and make the fat-cats rich.
Robinson is given the chance to do something about it when he hears of a sunken U-boat laden with gold in the Black Sea. Soon he assembles a team to go on the hazardous mission to get the gold. The crew is a mixture of Brits and Russians, and has the usual types you see in a heist movie: the rookie, the hothead, the joker, the wise old-timer, and the corporate stooge who is there to represent the guy who’s bankrolling the whole operation, and who is also there for a crucial plot-twist (think Paul Reiser in Aliens).
Set mostly in the claustrophobic setting of a rusty old Russian submarine (you can almost smell the diesel), Black Sea runs through practically every cliche of the genre, but still manages to maintain the tension. The Russian Navy is sailing above their heads so they have to keep silent; when the sub is damaged they dive too far down and reach “crush depth”; there is much talk of valves and pressure and hull breaches, and men soaked by freezing water as they try to plug leaks. There is a lot of shouting. And I mean a lot.
Robinson promises the men equal shares of the gold, and of course that simply leads to suspicion and tension among the crew as people start doing their sums. Good judgement is clouded by greed. The atmosphere is mutinous.
This is a very good film, the sort of thing that they don’t make much these days, but which used to be a staple, the kind of adventure film that used to show up on telly on rainy Saturday afternoons. Unreconstructed fans of Alistair MacLean will love it.
Along with Law, the excellent cast includes Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendehlson, Grigory Dobrygin, David Threlfall, Michael Smiley, Daniel Ryan, Konstantin Khabenskiy, Bobby Schofield, and Sergey Kolesnikov.
Verdict: Four Fathoms out of Five