2.5 stars
Heading into Wilbur Smith territory, Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland / Touching the Void) sends Jude Law (Anna Karenina) beneath the ocean to find sunken treasure in a yarn that conjures up The Hunt for Red October by way of The Poseidon Adventure. And that is the least of its troubles.
Law is Captain Robinson, a Scottish submariner who, down on his luck, is urged to put together a crew in search of Nazi gold lost in the Black Sea. The disparate gang of men, some British, some Russian plus one rogue Australian (Ben Mendelsohn – The Place Beyond the Pines), make for uncomfortable company, especially when their solidarity splinters on cultural, and financial lines. Matters are made worse when Robinson realises his American fixer (Scoot McNairy – The Rover) hasn't been entirely honest with him. Things really hit rock bottom when the ageing sub breaks and hits, er, rock bottom.

This is such an odd project for MacDonald who has carved a career from riveting character studies, people facing the worst that man can throw at them. Black Sea, penned by TV writer Dennis Kelly, is a routine bad-things-happen-to-bad-people thriller made even more routine by its stock characters and implausible situations. Really, it's a head scratcher why the Academy Award winner would take on such a formula story. MacDonald does what he can to coax something more visceral from the airport-novel tone, but barely gets to two dimensions. Three dimensional characters elude everyone involved.

Fortunately, there is a gutsy, visual tone to the film. MacDonald creates an inhospitable, claustrophobic space for both characters and audience, while his swooping camera carries us to places we're extremely reluctant to go. It helps paper over plot turns and behaviours (mostly by the psychotic Mendelsohn) which are only there to keep the narrative moving to inevitable markers and a been-here-seen-it resolution.

Black Sea does manage some tense moments amid the mayhem – a walk on the deep sea bed is particularly effective. MacDonald also teases some contemporary themes out of the story, corporations preying on the weak and vulnerable for example, which gives it a deeper resonance. Mostly its the kind of actioner reminiscent of matinee pics from the 1970's, usually starring Roger Moore or Michael York.


Previewed at Sony Theatre, Sydney, on 10 December 2014


Jude Law
Ben Mendelsohn
Scoot McNairy
Tobias Menzies

Kevin MacDonald

Dennis Kelly

UK / USA / Russia


115 minutes

March 5, 2015
Black Sea (2014) on IMDb