Run Silent, Run Shallow: Black Sea

01/14/2015 12:06 PM |
Photo courtesy of Focus Features


Black Sea
Directed by Kevin McDonald
Opens January 23


Kevin McDonald’s disjointed submarine thriller Black Sea focuses on the efforts of a ragtag band of Brits and Russians, led by Captain Robinson (Jude Law), who riskily trawl the eponymous expanse in search of hidden Nazi gold. It’s a hodgepodge of styles and influences which, though intermittently fun, fails to cohere into a satisfying whole. There are hints of The Treasure of The Sierra Madre’s epic sweep, Alien’s claustrophobia, and Southern Comfort’s macho angst, but McDonald’s pacing is way off; tempers flare before any tension has been allowed to simmer, while characters consistently behave in forehead-smackingly implausible ways (like Robinson smashing up the sub’s radio—their only form of contact with the outside world). There are early hints of social realism, with Dennis Kelly’s script broaching the very real issue of declining industry and mass unemployment. But this element is handled perfunctorily, and swiftly subsumed by sentimentality.

One of Black Sea’s other key problems lies with its lead. Law is capable of excellence, and his best roles to date (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Gattaca, A.I.) have played smartly on his beauty and—not unconnected—a teasing sense of aloofness. As the actor has aged, he’s understandably looked to expand his repertoire, recently popping up against type as a paunchy East End thug in Richard Shepard’s wayward Dom Hemingway. Yet only McDonald will know what he was thinking when hiring the 42-year-old to play a grizzled, balding, inexplicably Scottish hardman freshly dumped on the scrap heap after 30 years of experience. The role needed someone authentically gruff to navigate the choppy waters of bruised pride and escalating mania. Instead, it feels like Law playing Sean Connery playing Groundskeeper Willie—his chewy, beyond-wobbly accent wouldn’t be such a problem if it wasn’t exercised every few minutes in a series of chest-thumping speeches. Elsewhere, fine actors do what they can with limited, one-dimensional roles—Scoot McNairy slithers around as a nefarious corporate scumbag, while a jabbering Ben Mendelsohn plays seemingly the 100th sweaty-eyed psycho of his career. Sadly, they can’t save this boat from sinking.