Movie review: Jude Law's submarine thriller Black Sea strikes gold

Black Sea scores with its creaky, leaky technology and nail-biting psychological pressure

Review Action-thriller

BLACK SEA (NC16)

115 minutes/Opens tomorrow/***1/2

The story: Captain Robinson (Jude Law) is a laid-off submariner who hatches a plan to recover Nazi gold, lost and forgotten in a submarine lying at the bottom of the Black Sea. He finds an ageing Soviet undersea vessel and a group of desperate men.

Director Kevin Macdonald (How I Live Now, 2013; The Last King Of Scotland, 2006) set out to make an old-fashioned submarine thriller and he has pulled it off.

More remarkably, he made it work by making the technology in the film creaky, leaky and decrepit, instead of new and shiny.

This movie has more in common with World War II drama Das Boot (1981) than The Hunt For Red October (1990) - the men love and hate the unreliable steel tube that is their home and salvation, but which can betray them at any moment.

Macdonald and writer Dennis Kelly (who penned the acclaimed science-fiction drama series Utopia) are too smart to let things play out as purely physical encounters. There is plenty of nail-biting psychological pressure as things go from bad to worse.

Tension comes from every direction. The men fight their own vessel as it strains to make one last run. They bicker in groups, the British versus their Russian crewmates. The biggest conflict here is set in motion by the well-meaning Captain Robinson (Law) in his plan to divide the spoils.

There is an embarrassment of riches here in character actors who make the crew, starting with Ben Mendelsohn as Fraser, the sociopathic diver.

Law is almost unrecognisable here as the bulky Robinson, a man simmering with resentment at the former company, yearning to set things right by rewarding his crewmates with shares in Nazi gold.

Instead, as observed by his sponsor's representative Daniels (played by the wonderfully weaselly Scoot McNairy), Robinson, by acting with the best of intentions, inadvertently sows the seeds of everyone's destruction.

The scene is set for primal urges to take over within the claustrophobic confines of the submarine. What plays out draws less from wartime submarine epics than from classic thrillers in which the best and worst instincts emerge when desperate men are placed in desperate circumstances, with nowhere to run.

johnlui@sph.com.sg