“Boats are like whores. The old ones know how to look after you the best.”
In 2013 two movies came out that inform where I was coming from going into this movie.
The first is Phantom, an awful, awful Submarine movie where Ed Harris and David Duchovny play play Soviets. It’s awful, so bad in fact that it shook my faith in submarine movies, and I love sub movies. I think all the cliches are great, and if you just execute them well, I can watch them again and again. There was a point in my life where if a movie took place on a sub I was all in. I no longer had that blind devotion to the genre by the time I saw Phantom and yet… Phantom gets everything wrong, not one part of it works. It’s one of those movies that’s so bad, it made me question if movies could be good again, at least for Submarine movies.
The other is How I Live Now, a movie I’m not sure anyone else has seen. Me and a friend saw its one showing in New York and literally no one else was there. There wasn’t even an indication on the marquee that the movie existed. The thing about How I Live Now is that while it’s still pretty bad, and I kinda hate it, it’s also way better than it should have been possible for it to be. From what I can gleam of it, the book the movie is based on is an amazing piece of teen romance filth. The end of this movie is completely insufferable. But… the journey there is actually pretty good. Mostly because the director did an excellent job establishing mood and establishing atmosphere. There’s a lot I like about the movie, even though I hated it by the end, and that’s a miracle pulled by the director, Kevin Macdonald, as far as I’m concerned.
So here comes Black Sea, a submarine move from director Kevin Macdonald.
So I was pretty hopeful going in. Hopeful to see submarine movies redeemed in my eyes, and to see Macdonald get to put his talents to a good movie. All in all, I was pretty satisfied.
Black Sea is basically just a genre blender movie, combining the tropes of submarine movies, and heist movies. Jude Law is our main character, Captain Robinson, and the movie opens with him being laid off from the salvage company he’s spent over a decade working for. We also get hints that his naval career before that ended poorly.
“I disagreed with someone.”
We also learn that Robinson is divorced from his wife and has a young son. Spending so much time on submarines eventually destroyed his relationship with both of them. Without going too much into the details Robinson soon finds himself as the captain of a privately financed mission to recover Nazi gold, because of course he does. The gold is aboard a recently discovered sub that rests in a disputed section of the Black Sea, so no official salvage operation can get through the red tape. So this is a secret illegal, privately financed mission. The sub they buy for the mission is an old Russian one, so the crew is half Russian half British. The two groups don’t mix well and that provides much of the tension in the movie, particularly early on.
The crew is a nice bunch, with each man being fairly distinct without falling into caricature for the most part. The notable exception being the one character who’s basically Carter Burke from Aliens. The weakest part of the movie is that a lot of the plot is dictated by Robinson’s decision to bring aboard a young man who’s never been aboard a sub before. It serves as Robinson trying to get a second chance as a father figure since he’ll never have the chance with his real son. It’s not written all that great, but it works fine because Law does such a good job selling it. He keeps the movie afloat during its shakier parts.
There’s also an unnecessary reveal near the end that while it doesn’t ruin anything also makes the movie feel kind of like it has two third acts. It could have gotten where it needed to go more elegantly.
The draw here is Jude Law being awesome and the submarine movie tropes being executed well. If that sounds good to you, then check out Black Sea.