Twelve men. An old Soviet submarine. Forty million dollars in gold up for grabs. What could possibly go wrong?
Hunting for treasure
Black Sea follows the story of Captain Robinson (Jude Law), a Scottish ex-naval officer who has just been made redundant – ending eleven years at the same salvaging company.
In an attempt to level the score and secure his financial future, he recruits a team of ex-navy veterans, half British and half Russian, to find a sunken Soviet submarine full of gold that the government can’t touch because of international legislation. With funding in place from a mysterious backer, the team acquire a submarine from an underground contact in Sevastopol and set course for the Black Sea.
“Nothing but dark, cold death down there…”
Soon after departure, tensions begin to bubble up between the men, starting with the Russians picking on 18-year-old Tobin, calling him “virgin” and refusing to work with him. This friction between the Brits and Russians quickly escalates and spills over into paranoia, in part galvanised by expert diver and “psychopath” Fraser, who is convinced that the Russians will turn on them to increase their cut of the money.
Before long, violence erupts, leading to an explosion which causes the submarine to plummet to the sea bed, killing several of the men. The crew are then forced to work together to retrieve the engine from the nearby submarine containing the gold stash and escape with their lives intact. As the stakes get higher and the death toll starts to rise, Captain Robinson must decide what’s more important: getting his men out alive or salvaging the gold at all costs.
As a thriller set in a confined underwater space, it would be a huge surprise if there wasn’t an innate sense of claustrophobia and cabin fever. Although some sense of order comes from a respect for the chain of command and a mutual need to get the job done, there is also an inherent feeling of lawlessness; suggesting anything could happen down in the depths.
At times, this film is almost reminiscent of 28 Days Later, in that the confinement of men in a survival situation brings out both the best and worst in them. The final act is also somewhat resonant of Titanic’s latter half, where the worst possible situation has come true and escape is the only remaining concern (you know, without all the soppy love scenes!).
Jude Law is barely recognisable as Scottish tough-nut Robinson, nailing every mannerism and really making us believe he’s spent a lifetime working on submarines. The early scenes aboard the sub have a natural back-and-forth of dark-humoured banter that wouldn’t feel out of place on a construction site or army barracks and these little moments really help to sell the authenticity.
The use of lesser-known Russian and British actors alongside Law also creates a feeling of cultural accuracy that wouldn’t be achievable by having, say, Brad Pitt putting on a Russian accent. Only two men on board can cross the language barrier, meaning the situation is rife with the potential for misunderstandings, bolstering the tension in a believable, relatable way.
Unfortunately, whilst the overall tone feels pretty realistic, some of the plot turns are predictable and even silly. Captain Robinson’s crew soon begin to realise that the gold is affecting his judgement, with his desire to get rich and “stick it to the man” leading him towards madness.
The problem is this narrative scenario has been played out in films way too many times before and Fraser’s introduction as the loose cannon of the group makes it pretty clear that he’s going to do something drastic to change the course of events for the worse.
Although Black Sea can’t quite escape from cliché treasure hunting territory, as a high-stakes survival thriller, it definitely captures the sinking feeling of being stuck in an underwater prison that could cave under the pressure at any moment and become the crew’s tomb.
Black Sea is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.