BLACK SEA [2014]

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Directed by Kevin Macdonald, Written by Dennis Kelly

Starring: Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Grigoriy Dobrygin

Jude Law’s Scottish character in this submarine flick has to be seen to be believed. In the opening scene I did not recognise him at all, not only is his accent spot on but he somehow looks Scottish, when he speaks he looks Scottish. His raised hairline and slight hair loss completes this transformation. Admittedly Law is English so he isn’t making a giant leap, but the fact it took me ten minutes to recognise him says something about his performance and the make-up and hair-stylists who have added easily a decade onto the looks of Jude Law. Here he is a middle-aged, disgruntled employee who is sick of being used by the superiors that he works for. Then he and his fellow submarine pals are fired, which is where we pick up the story.

It isn’t the best start to a movie I have ever seen. Unlike the recent Blackhat which had its own miniature version of the stargate to open things up, here the pace is slow to begin with, but this slow pace does not last long. Submarine flicks are perfect for claustrophobia, paranoia, a constant sense of impending doom… it is a genre that I need to visit more really. All I could name is Das Boot if I’m honest. I need to rectify this as a submarine is the perfect place to base a thriller. So much can go wrong, so many personalities crammed into the one cramped ship. Not to mention I love the whole concept of stealthy warfare, and a silent approach is exactly what Robinson (Law) and his old buddies need to achieve if they are going to achieve their goal. Close-quarters is something they are very used to.

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Details are scarce regarding the specific reasons for their mission to take a subarine out to sea. This doesn’t matter though, as the basic reasons of submarine crews being fired and the subsequent following events and discussions are enough to create the core narrative of the deep-sea journey and the reason for its importance. While the first 20 or so minutes drag, the mission doesn’t take long to take shape and get underway. Once it does, there is no turning back. In some ways, this movie is actually more scary than most horror movies, as it all seems so real, the entire movie feels plausible and nothing feels forced at all. This movie puts you in the submarine and I found myself clenching my fists at times, the tension was that high.

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“Boats are like whores, the old ones know how to look after you!”

There is much to enjoy about this film. The classic submarine claustrophobia and constant threat of a catastrophe, mixed with some black humour that really hit the spot for me, creates a thrilling and tense film that is also pretty dark in nature. This isn’t a particularly happy story. The journey the men embark on will reveal true personalities, which is one of the best aspects of people in a cramped space like this. In a very odd way, this reminded me of Solaris… first the depth into the unknown and dangerous, then the close living quarters, stuck with only two other people. Another interesting thing I found about the crew that was assembled was, since the submarine they had acquired was Russian, half the crew needed to be Russian. There is some humourous charisma between the different crew members, often where there is an obvious language barrier and they are thinking two very different things while one will pretend to agree. There is distrust in the air almost immediately because of this lack of communication. To add to an already complicated situation, to make up the number of people needed for a crew, Robinson has recruited an inexperienced 18-year-old to risk his life for a mission that is obviously important to Robinson. Perhaps this was a sub-plot that wasn’t fully explored, as there were a few throwaway flashbacks of Robinson with his family, who he has lost, including a son, hence his affection for the young man. The fact he seemed homeless seemed to also weigh in on Robinson’s decision. It isn’t a sub-plot that is developed on… until things start to go wrong and Robinson’s judgement becomes unreliable.

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It also must be mentioned that this has one corker of an ending, and final act in general is incredibly shot and executed. One of the most tension filled movies I have seen since The Babadook.

4.5/5 – It is hard to imagine a movie cramming so much tension and speculation on what could go wrong in just over 100 minutes of movie runtime. But this movie pulls it off with ease. Its effectiveness at putting the viewer at the bottom of the sea is incredibly done, especially in a cinema, and aided by some great looking visuals – CGI or otherwise – the ship looked great, especially inside where all the action takes place – it is yet another movie I have reviewed that I am finding hard to fault in any way. Jude Law is just a wrecking ball in this role, I have never seen anything like it from him, the last good role I saw him play was the shrink in Side Effects. This performance though towers over his other roles – I’d love to see something else where he is this intense a character. Scoot McNairy provides solid support acting, as do the rest of the crew and especially Grigoriy Dobrygin, who is easily the Russian character that features the most.