Black Sea movie review: pirates of the Crimea
An underwater heist of Nazi loot? Awesome. Submarine movies don’t get much better than this intensely suspenseful popcorn adventure.
I’m “biast” (pro):
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
An underwater heist of Nazi loot. Does a submarine movie get better than this? How about some rage against the 1 percent thrown in for fun? Jude Law’s (Dom Hemingway, Rise of the Guardians) Robinson is a veteran of the British navy who’s been working in marine salvage until he gets an unceremonious boot from his job: nothing wrong with his work, just changin’ times, and don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out. He puts together a team of similarly hopeless men who’ve given their lives to the same dangerous, demanding work and have been discarded with nothing but flipping burgers as a career option. They’re going in search of a rumored sunken sub in Russian waters that could be laden with maybe $20 million in gold, a bribe by Stalin to Hitler to stave off an invasion that came anyway… because the sub never made it home? It’s a long shot, but desperate times, etc.
Director Kevin Macdonald likes movies about extreme survival: his last was the postnuclear How I Live Now, and the mountain adventure Touching the Void might be his best film so far. Black Sea is at the top of the list now, too. Because of course things go south for the endeavor quickly; heading out to sea in a rusty old Russian sub bought on the cheap probably wasn’t the best idea, nor is confining a bunch of nervous, mistrustful, and, in one case, semi-psychotic would-be thieves in said sub. Will there be honor among these thieves? Will the superstitions of sailors trip them up? Will the gold even be there for them to steal? And if they manage it, will the mysterious man who’s backing them (Tobias Menzies: Game of Thrones, Doctor Who) stick to his side of the bargain, which is supposed to leave Robinson’s gang with 60 percent of whatever they find?
The smart, clever script, by TV writer Dennis Kelly, deals with matters of plausibility — could they really sneak into disputed Russian water like this without being seen? — and resolves them in intriguing ways. Satisfying nods to films like The Hunt for Red October and even Aliens (no, there are no aliens) cement this in the solid popcorn movie tradition. But it is the roundrobin of shifting insanities among the motley crew — including Scoot McNairy (Gone Girl, Non-Stop), Ben Mendelsohn (Starred Up, The Place Beyond the Pines), Michael Smiley (Doctor Who, The World’s End), and up-and-comer Grigoriy Dobrygin (A Most Wanted Man) — that creates the best of the intense and uniquely horrifying suspense even among the gripping underwater sequences. I found myself holding my breath for more reasons than one during this enormously entertaining flick.
See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Black Sea for its representation of girls and women.