Black Sea (Focus Features, R)

black sea_75There is a very smothering feel—the men are so dirty and so sweaty that you can almost smell them on the screen. If you like that kind of panicky feeling, I suggest you watch this film.

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Directed by Academy Award winner Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland, Touching the Void), this British suspenseful adventure-thriller really topped my expectations. Writer and producer Dennis Kelly created a twisted plot full of pride, greed, and desperation as he loaded an antique submarine with worn-out grumpy sea-wolves, and sunk them to the bottom of the ocean.

After losing everything, including his wife and son, to his job as a submariner, Robinson (Jude Law) is devastated when he gets laid off after over a decade with the company. Because vengeance never looked so good, Scoot McNairy’s suspicious go-to-man character, Daniels, easily tempts Robinson into a dangerous deal with an unknown millionaire. Soon enough, he finds himself assembling a submarine crew of similarly miserable men, preparing for the search of forty million dollars in forgotten Nazi gold. (Stalin’s fat bribe of golden bricks sailed out to prevent an invasion and, allegedly, is still somewhere at the bottom of the Gregorian waters, lingering in a WWII U-boat.)

Before we even submerge, it’s crystal clear that this diverse team of unusual men will not get along easily, even more so after Captain Robinson proclaims that the soon-discovered reward will be split equally among everyone on board—British as well as Russian. As it becomes clear that the fewer survivors there are, the more money each one gets, the gripping, suffocating pressure really rises.

The international cast and dialogue, with heavy accents from both countries, made the movie even more authentic and captivating. Michael Smiley, David Threlfall, and Ben Mendelsohn are all among the crew of crazies, just like the innocent looking 18-year old Tobin (Bobby Schofield) who comes along for the ride (or dive) so he can support his soon-to-come baby. He gets bullied throughout the film (“virgins are bad luck”) and stimulates parental instincts for Robinson, who is dreaming about his family in flashbacks.

The claustrophobic setting of the timeworn, rusty submarine is perfectly captured by cinematographer Christopher Ross who does a terrific job of mastering perplexing camera angles that don’t allow us to doubt, even for a second, the confining space the ensemble has to exist in. Black Sea has a very smothering feel—the men are so dirty and so sweaty that you can almost smell them on the screen (except for their new, shiny, expensive watches, via product placement of course).

Even though this is a submarine thriller, its endless chase for space, air, and life across water and lots of confiding space reminds me of Alister Grierson’s Sanctum, about a group of people who don’t like each other very much on an expedition discovering underwater caves. If you like that kind of panicky feeling, I suggest you watch Black Sea. It’s surprisingly riveting throughout its 115-minute runtime. And if you don’t like being strained for air, just watch it for Jude Law trying to be a badass. | Lea Vrábelová

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