Jude Law Keeps This Submarine Thriller From Being Lost At Sea
Director: KEVIN MACDONALD/2015
Director Kevin Macdonald (State of Play, The Last King of Scotland) delivers a welcomed respite from the typical doldrums of January films in his new thriller, Black Sea. Written by Dennis Kelly, a writer better known for the television shows Utopia and MI-5, Black Sea is a competent foray for Kelly to join the world of feature films. Although his lack of experience in writing feature films shows at times, Kevin MacDonald is able to keep the script moving along on-screen at a fast enough pace that allows the viewer to overlook any issues one might take with the script. As a result, this film might have some sea legs that just might get people into the theater.
Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Dom Hemingway) plays Captain Robinson, a recently laid off worker at a ship yard. Having spent years on submarines, away from his family, Robinson finds himself laid off, broke, and his wife and son have moved on. All he is left with is the reoccurring memory of a good moment they spent together at the beach when his son was younger. To say that Robinson is desperate is an understatement. He needs to find meaning. He longs to work and finally have the money that will allow him the chance at redemption, especially with his son.
When Robinson is told a story about a German U-Boat that was sunk in the Black Sea after having received a shipment of gold from Stalin as a bribe to not invade Russia (which Hitler did anyway). Robinson finds a rich investor to finance him getting a team, consisting of both British sailors as well as Russian ones (to help them with the type of boat they will be using as well as where they’ll be searching for the German boat), and he sets off to recover the gold, find wealth, and ultimately redemption.
While the trailer paints the film as a simple story of a greedy crew killing one another off to increase their share of the gold (less people means more gold for each of the survivors), the script actually has more depth than that. The desperate nature of this group of men who have taken advantage of all their life by those with more plays into a current debate of the haves and the have-nots that informed the “Occupy Wall Street” movement and other examples of class warfare. Typical to such narratives is the corporate business that lays them off to save a dollar so that the CEO can pad his wallet is a tired cliché that harkens back to Karl Marx’s main points about the Theory of Surplus Value, and how Capitalists (owners) make the profits when it’s the workers who do the work, and the idea that the workers would eventually revolt, leading to a classless society. Here, the revolt not the workers killing the owners, but seeking to gain wealth on their own independent of the company that fired them so that they can have dignity as men in the face of such corporate fat-cats.
It also is a social commentary on our own prejudices that plays out between two cultures. Here it is between the British and Russians. It also is a mirror shining back our own inherent greed. Robinson seeks to curtail his own ambition with the loftier goals of simply having the means to provide for his son and earn back his respect, but the larger question is whether he will succumb to the temptation that the potential payoff offers, even when he is not even sure if such a payoff exists.
The submarine provides a good closed, claustophobic space to serve as a pressure cooker for all of these narratives to collide and play out through the actions of the crew. In some ways, you can see Kevin Macdonald utilizing some of the main tropes that was in another closed-space thriller, namely Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece Alien. Black Sea falls well short of that classic film, but the impulse is the same in terms of the human condition.
And while Black Sea has large ambition and an able cast, there is still a reason that it is being released in January and not closer to summer. That being said, it is still able to rise above the usual winter fare to become an entertaining film that audiences will enjoy, even if the ending will leave people feeling a bit deflated. Jude Law plays against type, but helps Black Sea be a standout in an otherwise boring month of films.