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Film in review – “Black Sea”

Black_Sea_(film)“Black Sea” is a submarine drama that features close quarters, distrust, sweat, anxiety, aggression, fear and testosterone.  It’s the polar opposite from the breezy, lighthearted romantic comedy genre, and it’s going to struggle to find an audience.  But if you can accept it on its own terms, it’s really quite suspenseful, because it features not only constant tension within the crew, but some plot surprises right up until the final scene.

Jude Law plays Captain Robinson, a middle-aged, just-fired seaman who’s suddenly confined to drinking in pubs with his salty old merchant marine buddies.  He already feels that he’s given up family life for his always-away job, which necessitated more absence than presence at his house. His ex-wife couldn’t stand the inattention, but he still pines over her and over being with his kids, especially at off-moments like this, when he’s suddenly and unexpectedly unemployed.

But help comes from an unexpected quarter: There is a persistent rumor about a sunken Nazi submarine in the Black Sea, filled with gold bars, that was originally intended to be payment from Stalin to Hitler to seal their historic non-aggression pact.  Of course we all know that Hitler invaded Russia, anyway, but it’s not known if he was promised, or ever received, any gold shipment; perhaps it’s plausible that it was lost en route.

It’s chilling to see old footage of Hitler, even after all these years.  Any plunder taken off a sunken Nazi submarine would surely be considered by the rest of the world to be fair game for looting.  However, one of the plot twists is that the deal Captain Robinson thought he made with his financier was, in fact, a sham, and his carefully-constructed crew of half Brits and half Russians threatens to explode into violence at any moment. We’re always teetering on the brink of mutiny, except that they all realize they need each other to make this work, or they’ll all perish together (sort of a microcosm for meta-world-peace, n’est pas?)

Director Kevin Macdonald (“The Last King of Scotland”) not only sets us up for relentless struggle within the sub, he also reminds us that most of us are daily engaged in some kind of class warfare/economic wrangling.  Introduce the element of greed, and the close-quartered tension could hair-trigger at any moment.  Some of the mechanical aspects of submarine seaworthiness will have to be addressed by real maritime engineers, but it feels real, if a bit overwrought.

Usually, the natural enemy of a submarine crew is the enemy destroyer, hurling depth charges from the surface.  But here, the only thing they have to fear is each other.

Click here to read Ron Salfen’s interview with Kevin Macdonald, director of “Black Sea.”

RONALD P. SALFEN is the parish associate at Woodhaven Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.