Starring: Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald (“The Last King of Scotland”)
Written by: Dennis Kelly (debut)
Director Kevin Macdonald is nothing if not versatile. As an Oscar winner for his 1999 documentary “One Day in September,” Macdonald has been alternating documentary and narrative films since 2003, releasing five of each, which also makes him prolific. For his latest narrative, Macdonald packs Jude Law and some character actors into a submarine in the treasure hunt film “Black Sea.”
After being let go from his job as a submarine captain, Capt. Robinson (Law) hears from a co-worker about a German World War II-era submarine sitting at the bottom of the ocean holding millions of dollars in gold. In an effort to get to the gold before anyone else can, Law meets with a mysterious funder and puts together a team of people (some with questionable backgrounds) to go on the dangerous mission of claiming the buried treasure.
As the crew plans to head to the depths of the ocean, Law’s character provides incentive to the crew members by telling them that all of the money will be shared equally. When one of the men on board (Scoot McNairy) tells Capt. Robinson that crew members killing other crew members could provide a larger cut to those who survive, the rest of the movie is foretold and disappointingly follows a series of tropes while, interestingly enough, becoming too twisty for its own good.
A lot of the fault for the failures of “Black Sea” can be put on the shoulders of character design. A diver played by the always-solid Ben Mendelsohn, for example, is introduced as a loose cannon that very early on makes a scene out of submarine food which is not only a cliché but has no real reason for it in the context of the movie. It becomes pretty obvious where his arc and where the story will take him. Law, who is good in the film, is not given very much to work with either. One of the biggest failures of the film is a subplot featuring Law acting as a paternal figure to a young member of the crew. It never feels earned or resonates, especially in an emotional payoff that feels entirely empty.
“Black Sea” is certainly not without its moments. There are some very tense ones when the hunt for the treasure becomes increasingly perilous and Macdonald is really able to create a claustrophobic atmosphere within the confines of the submarine. Beyond that, however, lies characters, a story and a screenplay that are deeply unsatisfying.