Please excuse me while I unabashedly gush over the latest dramatic thriller from Scottish filmmaker Kevin MacDonald that will have you on the edge of your seat right up until the final moments.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Review by Cherie Wheeler
As the marine salvage industry turns toward technological advancements, and away from manual labour, Captain Robinson (Jude Law) finds himself unceremoniously booted out of the only job he has ever known. Alienated from the family he sacrificed long ago, and with very little in the way of prospects, Robinson rounds up a crew of men beleaguered by similar circumstances for a rogue mission in an old, rustic submarine to the depths of the Black Sea to find a sunken WWII U-boat rumoured to be laden with Nazi gold. Each man has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, but such desperation leads to rising tensions between them, and what begins as a lifesaving venture, ends up becoming a fight for survival.
Not since last year’s Dallas Buyers Club have I had the privilege to experience such a gut-wrenching, nail-biting, and emotionally gripping film on the big screen. Much like how the submarine slowly descends beneath the surface of the water, then dangerously dives underneath the Russian fleet, before finally sinking to the terrifying darkness at the bottom of the Black Sea, so too does the story gradually delve deeper and darker.
In a sort of DiCaprio-esque, sudden onset of maturity, Jude Law leaps with ease from romantic comedy playboy (Alfie, The Holiday) into this far more substantial role. His stylish, golden locks have been shaved away, along with his youthful, pretty boy looks, in order to make way for this much heavier-set man, with a rugged scowl, and a broad Scottish accent that made me violently double take when I first heard it. It’s not merely this physical transformation that allows Law to be so convincing in this role; he delivers an emotional depth that draws you right into the character. Whilst Captain Robinson can be quite abrasive at times, you continue to barrack for him, and empathise with him as he is confronted with each new devastating twist of misfortune, but Law’s solid performance would be all at sea without the efforts of the stellar supporting cast.
Every member of Robinson’s crew is a fully fleshed out character; each has his own set of unique idiosyncrasies, and reasons for participating in the voyage. The script by Dennis Kelly allows time for you to become acquainted with each and every one of them as the journey progresses, but whilst you will grow fond of some; such as Grigoriy Dobrygin who plays the still and mostly silent Morozov, and Sergey Veksler as the intimidating, but sharply intelligent Baba; you will also come to strongly dislike others, including Ben Mendelsohn as the obnoxious and hot-headed Australian diver Fraser. Ultimately, it is the relationships between these men that will either make or break the mission.
Reinforcing the authenticity of the performances is the breathtaking cinematography and outstanding sound design. I applaud the decision by director Kevin MacDonald to shoot as much of the film as possible on a real submarine, and not an artificial set, as the textures, weathering, and history imbued into the vessel could not have possibly been recreated so well. Cinematographer Christopher Ross captures the exterior of the submarine in all its glory through daunting wide shots that reveal its incredible scale, and the photography throughout the diving scenes is also very well executed, however, I must question the fascination with the back of Jude Law’s head. No one’s neck needs to be shown that many times within a single film.
MacDonald’s wheelhouse is mostly documentary with very few, yet noteworthy, feature films under his belt, including The Last King of Scotland (2006) and State of Play (2009). Similar to the latter mentioned, Black Sea gives a strong impression that it is based on a true story, but whilst it branches off historical events, the film is pure fabrication. Bizarrely, the higher the stakes become, and the greater the odds grow against the men, the more you are led to believe that this must have actually happened, which I can only put down to as MacDonald’s influence.
Although perhaps not as flawed as the voyage undertaken to retrieve the gold, Black Sea does misstep here and there with a few plot inconsistencies, as well as an awfully overbearing score, but I was so consumed by the narrative, and so emotionally engaged that I was more than prepared to overlook these minor issues. Four stars.
Black Sea is in Australian cinemas as of Thursday April 9th.
Images courtesy of EntertainmentOne