Jude Law stars in a suspenseful adventure about a rogue submarine captain who pulls together a misfit crew to go after a sunken treasure rumored to be lost in the depths of the Black Sea. As greed and desperation take control onboard their claustrophobic vessel, the increasing uncertainty of the mission causes the men to turn on each other to fight for their own survival.
The claustrophobia of submarine movies is always the overriding factor that makes them so tense. Being locked in a metal shell deep beneath the ocean's surface is enough to make anyone go mad. It sets tensions on edge and causes people to act in ways that they might not had they been thinking reasonably. Sure, most submarine missions in real life don't culminate in horror, but movies aren't interested in those stories. 'Black Sea' compounds the claustrophobia and paranoia by packing the crew in an outdated, rust-ridden sub with the Russian naval fleet floating overhead.
Like Jude Law's 'Dom Hemingway,' the most memorable aspect of 'Black Sea' is indeed, his performance. Law plays Robinson, a veteran submarine captain who has spent much of his life at sea for a company that salvages shipwrecks. We're introduced to Robinson as he's being downsized and kicked out of job that ultimately ruined his marriage and a relationship with his son. So, rightly, Robinson is miffed.
He isn't the only former submarine crew member to fall on hard times. The layoffs have exacted an incalculable toll on many of his close friends. One of the driving forces for the movie is the deep-seated angst and resentment between blue-collar workers and their faceless white-collar overlords. Robinson soon latches onto this notion of unfairness when he teams up with an acquaintance to pull off a particularly intricate heist.
There's a submarine at the bottom of the Black Sea that could contain millions of dollars in Nazi gold. Only Robinson's old company can't reach the wreck because of tensions with Russia. The idea is to steal the company's knowledge of the wreck, hire a crew, commission a sub, and head for the gold as fast and as quiet as possible.
The crew Robinson hires is half British and half Russian, which raises tensions even more. Robinson is tasked with keeping the crew alive, but he soon learns that the close quarters and cultural misunderstandings could prove to be too much.
Kevin Macdonald's direction is perfectly adept at providing images and scenes that convey just how dangerous the mission is. We first get the sense of how dangerous this mission is when they have to shut down the engines when they hear a Russian destroyer on sonar. There's a palpable danger exhibited throughout the film that keeps interest from waning.
Is 'Black Sea' unlike any other submarine action-drama you've ever seen? No. It has all the fundamental working parts to create a believable, but familiar story. It isn't a transcendent narrative experience, however it doesn't bore either.
Law's performance really is the highlight though. He dives into his character with a unique vigor. Remember how ridiculously over the top he was as Dom Hemingway? Well, he's dialed his performance back here a bit, much more reserved. Yet, he's still a brooding force of complexities that steer him in the directions his character takes. He's certainly a black-or-white kind of guy. There's no mushy gray middle with Robinson. He's entirely sure that the fat cats at the top of the capitalist food chain are purposefully ruining his life. It's with that mindset he weighs the risks and rewards of their voyage.
The moment they set off you know something bad is going to happen, it always does in submarine dramas. You just don't know how horrible it's going to get. At least in that way 'Black Sea' keeps you guessing with its screenplay, and keeps you interested with the talent in front of the camera.
The Blu-ray(s): Vital Disc Stats
This is a two-disc set which comes with a 50GB Blu-ray and a DVD. A code for a Digital Copy is also included along with a standard slipcover.
For the most part Universal's 1080p presentation is quite striking. Even considering the limited nature of the shoot, there's quite a lot of stunningly gorgeous visuals presented. There are, however, a few instances of anomalies that crop up keeping it from reaching the greatest of heights.
Let's get the bad out of the way first. The underwater scenes do feature some noticeable banding. Something that wouldn't be a problem except that underwater scenes are plentiful. Whether it's the sub sinking to murkier depths or a light cutting through the dark water near the ocean floor, banding can be seen, especially on larger screen sizes. Here the banding isn't extremely bad, but it's prevalent enough to knock the score down a peg.
Everything else is a dream though. All the footage inside the sub presents wonderful detail. Close quarters provide for nothing but close ups. Facial detail like rugged age lines or rough stubble is capture expertly. Shadows are delineated perfectly. Crushing is non-existent. Colors are rich, even in the rusted environment of the ancient sub they're floating around in. Most of the movie looks great in high-def.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track creates an enveloping listening environment. The unique thing here is that all the sound is located inside the sub. We get a lot of great echoing which wouldn't be prevalent in other movies. It lends a realism to the presentation that is fun to listen to.
The metallic echoes are present in all channels. There's a scene where the crew has to manually send out sound waves in order to figure out where they are by listening to them. The bash a large beam against the hull of the sub in order to create the sounds. The resulting echoes are deep, resonant, and travel throughout the audio field like a rolling thunder. It sounds great. Not to mention the sub-woofer adds some great low-end frequencies to the mix.
Dialogue is intelligible, even with the thick accents sported by the movie's actors. Rear channels are alive with all sorts of bangs, whirs, and creaks as the old sub chugs along. In short, 'Black Sea' is an encompassing audio mix that provides a unique listening experience.
'Black Sea' is a taut thriller bolstered by a very talented cast. Jude Law elevates the proceedings with a praise-worthy performance of a man at the end of his rope with blinded by resentment. With a solid video presentation and a decidedly unique audio mix, 'Black Sea' is recommended.