Saturday, 17 October 2015

Black Sea (2014)

Alistair MacLean thriller and Ken Loach social realism are two genres that don't automatically go together but these influences make for interesting shipmates in Kevin Macdonald's tense submarine adventure, Black Sea, which sees a ragtag group of redundant submariners fucked over by their corporate paymasters out for long abandoned gold at the bottom of the ocean.

Headed by Jude Law's bitter laid off skipper, the team of Brits and Russians quickly succumb to the claustrophobic pressure-cooker environment as bad luck strikes and emotions run high as the sub runs silent and deep. Can the crew find the German U boat stuffed full of gold without being detected by Putin's fleet? Or will the notion of the fewer the survivors, the greater the cut cause them to turn upon one another?

As you can probably guess by that description, it's not just the old school thrills of MacLean and the Cameron's Britain angst of social issue film making on offer here - Scriptwriter Dennis Kelly (of Utopia and Pulling fame) also offers a liberal dollop of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Henri-Georges Clouzot's The Wages of Fear (or, if you prefer, William Friedkin's Sorcerer - its '70s US remake) to explore the notion of fool's gold and the desperation of men and it does so in a enthrallingly effective manner. The tension remains palpable throughout, with an unseen danger lurking in virtually every shot - the cold black beyond outside the sub, the ramshackle, inhospitable and claustrophobic setting, the rough and ready, uneasy comrades in the deep and the faceless corporation whose cost cutting forces them into such a desperate endeavour. 

This is a much more successful attempt at presenting Law as a serious and mature actor as opposed to the pretty boy he has previously traded on than Dom Hemingway proved to be, and he delivers a pleasingly honest and raw turn here. Much has been made of his Aberdeen accent but to my ears it was fine more times than it was wrong. I just think several critics need to use him as a whipping boy and on this occasion all they had was the distracting accent. 

He's ably supported by Ben Mendelsohn who once again turns in a creepily psychotic performance as the lone Australian in the crew who, when on shore, spends more times in prison than he does out, whilst Michael Smiley and David Threlfall offer some solid, down to earth, dour colour - the latter in particular enjoying himself with an underbite affectation. Young Liverpudlian actor Bobby Schofield (son of Andrew, famous for playing the central role in '80s series Scully) also delivers an impressive and engaging debut as the wide eyed innocent on board. The rest of the cast are filled out by Scoot McNairy, Konstantin Khabenskiy, Grigori Dobrygin and - briefly - Jodie Whittaker, all of whom perform well.

Reviews seem to be mixed about Black Sea but I fail to see why. Granted it is not in the same class as Sierra Madre et al but it's a solid, briskly efficient thriller that I like to think of us a 'Dad' movie - and the proof of the pudding is in the eating; my Dad watched it and he rather enjoyed it.

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