There's a fascinating twist at the heart of Kevin Macdonald's submarine thriller Black Sea. It seems to be a combination of heist movie, about a gang preparing and pulling off a risky robbery, and old-fashioned WWII submarine thriller, about the tensions arising among men fulfilling a mission locked up in a literal underwater pressure cooker. But in Dennis Kelly's script, it's also a parable of modern day economic problems and class divisions between the haves and the have-nots, a study of working-class resentment for believing in a system hijacked against them at every possible juncture by the moneyed.
In so doing, the Scottish director best known for The Last King of Scotland pulls off what is very possibly my favourite of all his fictional films (though, for disclosure's sake, I haven't seen his recent young-adult post-apocalyptic adventure How I Live Now, as yet unreleased locally). While the sense of a working-class gang taking on the establishment is something we've seen a lot in British films (from classics such as The Italian Job to more recent stuff like Ken Loach's The Angels' Share), there's never any doubt that it's the genre premise and structure that is propelling Black Sea forward: a ragtag crew of laid-off salvage workers find themselves 300 feet under the Black Sea in a rusting hulk of a submarine, seeking the millions of dollars in gold bullion forgotten inside a sunken German WWII vessel.
The British social realist angle is there for sure, and is effectively presented in the film's opening stretch; and Mr. Macdonald gets the terse, claustrophobic feel just right, the film's all-male, no-nonsense ensemble perfectly dovetailing with his interest in camaraderie and tension and benefiting immensely from the assembled cast of solid British and Russian performers. Even granting that Mr. Kelly's script basically trades in archetypes, that is exactly at the essence of genre and that is what gives Black Sea a solid scaffolding to present his tale of men at work for the sake of a better life.
USA, United Kingdom 2014
Cast Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, David Threlfall, Konstantin Khabenskiy, Sergey Puskepalis, Michael Smiley, Grigory Dobrygin, Sergey Veksler, Sergey Kolesnikov, Bobby Schofield, Jodie Whittaker
Director Kevin Macdonald; screenwriter Dennis Kelly; cinematographer Christopher Ross (colour, widescreen); composer Ilan Eshkeri; designer Nick Palmer; costumes Natalie Ward; editor Justine Wright; effects supervisor Simon Hughes; producers Charles Steel and Mr. Macdonald; production companies Focus Features, Filmfour and Cowboy Films
Screened February 27th 2015, NOS Alvaláxia 1, Lisbon (distributor press screening)