By Jason Lin
Greed has always been a dormant demon within each of everyone waiting to be aroused. Whether be it an insatiable appetite or a parent wanting the best for their child, greed is always present though it may be driven by other qualities and reasons. What better ways to explore this in detail than to have twelve men in a submarine stewing in claustrophobia hoping to find Stalin's gold in Kevin Macdonald's Black Sea.
Black Sea centers on a rogue submarine captain (Jude Law) who, after being laid off from a salvage company, 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 on board their claustrophobic vessel, the increasing uncertainty of the mission causes the men to turn on each other to fight for their own survival.
Screenwriter Dennis Kelly sets up a brief pretext to send twelve strangers to volunteer themselves for a treasure hunt deep underneath the black sea with a rumour that dates back to the Second World War. Apparently, Stalin deployed a U-boat to transport several tons of gold that never made it to its intended destination.
Setting everything up very rapidly within the first fifteen to twenty minutes, the film cuts to the chase and packs a loosely assembled crew of multi-national retired veterans led by an extremely depressed and desperate sub-sea skipper Robinson (Jude Law) who has nothing to lose and everything to try for. This constitutes weak story development with a huge premise with huge plot holes.
Macdonald has given up a fair bit of solid plot development so as to focus his efforts towards the stewardship of an obsolete U-boat, which the crew procures in Crimea with some post-purchase refurbishment. He commandeers a very tight vessel as the ambience and characters are winding tauter as the submarine travels deeper into the waters and claustrophobic depths of pressure & greed
With greater pressures and stakes, Macdonald begins deploying mind tricks to start taunting the crew. Starting with low hanging fruits, the men begin to degenerate by picking on easy targets to reduce the headcount. It is also observed that whenever somebody makes a move or decision against another, it leads to a complex multitude of consequences that many do not anticipate.
Cause and effect, action and reaction.
Having a crew of different tongues and cultures is already a preset condition for disaster. Having a common goal where everyone gets an equal cut of the gold adds further to the turmoil that excites the greed within each of them.
Evil begets evil, evil breeds evil.
Displaying one of his best performances of late, Law submits a raw and riveting showcase of his character development as the mental pressures get the better of him. The crew ensemble also works effectively to complement the claustrophobia and tension within the submarine, as the conflicts and chemistry really gets to the audience - making it exhilarating and nail-biting to watch as these men progressively break each other down into bits. Particularly gripping is Ben Mendelsohn's psychotic demeanour as an Australian diver and a shifty villain.
Akin to the heightening pressure surrounding the submarine and diminishing air supply, there is a limit to the containment of a man's logic and morality before it caves in to an overwhelming influx of wicked influences.
Macdonald gives his best at making Black Sea as unpredictable as possible to keep genre fans at the edge of their seats albeit foregoing detailed story qualities by adopting a touch-and-go approach.
(Preview courtesy of InCinemas. Also published on InCinemas.)