Thursday, 11 December 2014

Black Sea

"Outside it's just a black, cold death."

Desperate men in desperate circumstances, is a way to sum up this claustrophobic thriller from director Kevin Macdonald. Submarine films are back in fashion it would seem, they used to be popular in the eighties and does this latest film signal a large scale comeback for the genre.
Commercial submariner Robinson (Jude Law) has spent most of his life at sea. His career has cost him both his marriage and children and his sacrifice is about to be wasted as his company is about to let him go. With nothing left to lose he assembles a team to salvage a recently discovered sunken treasure. But as suspicion arises and the promise of money acts as a fierce motivator, the crew turn dark.
This is not a new plotline. Like I said this has been done more than once in different environments, submarines had their go in the eighties and as far as paranoid treasure hunt goes you can trace a concept like that back to the thirties with the Treasure of Sierra Madre. So can Black Sea offer us anything new? In a word, no. While this story is told in a believable and interesting manner, as well as being brilliantly acted (we’ll get to that later). But as far as originality goes it isn’t pushing the boat out.
It does do one thing very well as most films of this type have to. It treats the submarine as a character of its own. After a while it becomes just as uncontrollable and unpredictable as the men inside it. That bond between man and tool is explored in satisfying detail here. There’s an interesting backstory to revolve around the main plot as well, of social and economic redundancy which leaves many with few options. It is not on an apocalyptic, Children of Men level, but it is an inconvenience. In many ways it is disturbingly close to the current world but slightly worse, I like that, it makes you feel connected to the story.
Speaking of which, if there’s one thing that Black Sea does very well it is connect the audience with the story. It succeeds in grabbing my attention and making me feel the claustrophobic environment of the submarine. I felt the tension rise as the men slowly turned on each other. Macdonald directs with this minimalistic style that proves to be utterly ruthless when it comes to comforting the viewer. Black sea also relishes in pointing out how we may think of space as the ultimate trap with Gravity and Alien, but the Earth’s ocean can be just as terrifying where the chances of rescue are, if anything, even worse than the chances in space.
Staying on the positive side, although I may criticise the story for being too familiar, it still keep me intrigued, which is a good thing as the sense of being trapped might have caused me to stop watching. The story is given life by the brilliant acting and superb shooting techniques. Jude Law is an excellent leader but the brilliance comes from Grigory Dobrygin, he is completely spectacular and watchable in Black Sea.
But the film is let down by not being more than what it is. Most of the time films like this represent something in society, the depth goes far beyond the bottom of the ocean. Here it just appears to be a submarine film, but as submarine films go it’s a good one.
Most of what we see here is recognisable territory but some engrossing performances and a fresh direction on the camera that really immerses the viewer in this world make Black Sea a respectable film. It’s the same formula, but it’s done very well.

Result: 7/10

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