Black Sea, film review: The screenplay is leaky as the ancient, Soviet-era submarine

(15) Kevin Macdonald, 115 mins Starring: Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn
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The director Kevin Macdonald does a very good job in capturing the claustrophobia and fear that a submarine crew feel as a mission goes wrong.

His thriller, scripted by Dennis Kelly (who wrote Matilda the Musical), is very well cast, too. Its protagonists are craggy-faced old-timers who've reached middle-age with nothing to show for themselves.

After years of working for the navy or for salvage companies, they're on the dole, or in dead-end jobs, many estranged from their families. That's why they're ready to take part in a reckless underwater mission to salvage German U-boat gold discovered in the depths of the Black Sea. An impressive Jude Law, adopting a thick Scottish brogue, plays their skipper, Robinson.

Early on, we are told that submarines are like whores – the old ones treat you best. Unfortunately, the screenplay here proves as leaky as their ancient, Soviet-era vessel. The behaviour and motivations of the crew-members, especially that of the near-psychopathic Fraser (Ben Mendelsohn), are hard to fathom.

The film seems caught between Robert Louis Stevenson or Jules Verne-style escapism and gritty realism. The tensions between the western crew-members and their Russian colleagues flare into violence for no obvious reason. A film that is very strong on atmosphere becomes increasingly far-fetched the deeper the submarine sinks.