Black Sea Blu-ray Review
Fired from a job, the only thing he has ever known. Realizing he gave up everything for a company, a job that never cared for him. A family he no longer knows, who have moved on. And to top it off, best friends who have all been through the same thing. This is where we find our protagonist, Robinson, played by Jude Law, during the opening moments of BLACK SEA; a man at the end of his rope. And, from the most basic standpoint, this is what makes BLACK SEA such an enthralling, rich character study and a wonderful (if a bit simple) story… which serves to make the latter 2/3 of the movie all the more disappointing with bloat and technique that bore and distract from the films core, Law’s performance.
BLACK SEA opens with Robinson losing his job of over 30 years. It’s the only life he’s known since becoming an adult, having sacrificed everything for the camaraderie of working on submarines with his fellows. His time on submarines has cost him his marriage, relationships with family and friends, and now he’s out. Having drinks with a couple of old work buddies, he learns of a nearly impossible opportunity. Apparently Robinson, with his combined mechanical skill and experience salvaging dead submarines, is perfect for this opportunity. A vanished submarine of legend, supposedly filled with gold that was meant to buy peace between the Russians and an ambitious Hitler, which never arrived at its destination.
Robinson is initially leery but is convinced when his best friend Kurston (Daniel Ryan), one of the few men he trusts, swears he’s seen it and the opportunity is real. The only problem – they have no submarine and the location of the submersible is in the highly contested waters and the Russians and Ukrainians will both want the treasure, if they’re discovered. To hopefully mitigate their risk Robinson and Blackie (one of his best friends) select a crew that half Russian and half English. Sadly tensions run high between a crew trapped in tight quarters unable to communicate with each other, and one man (Ben Mendelsohn’s great turn as a man named Fraser) begins to unravel.
BLACK SEA, once you get past the inspired opening moments, turns into a sort of OCEAN’S ELEVEN-RED OCTOBER, a movie that aspires for much but achieves little. BLACK SEA excels when it focuses on character but falls apart when it tries to concoct a reasonable heist narrative. To make matters worse the filmmaker changes styles drastically throughout the film though not clearly for thematic or narrative reasons (though I suspect that was the rationale). Instead the changes feel sloppy, forced, and uncharacteristic of what the filmmakers had established to that point.
The sound design of BLACK SEA and the production design are both stunning. I would consider myself a moderate fan of submarine movies and never have I seen one that so clearly conveys the unease of being in such close quarters in an environment within which there is no escape if something goes wrong and you can’t fix it. The design of the submarine, the way in which it was shot from an establishing perspective, and the supportive sound elements are immersive and credible.
All-in-all BLACK SEA is a movie I can recommend but only haltingly and with some caveats. It’s worth seeing for Law’s, Mendelsohn’s, and (Scoot) McNairy’s turns in their respective roles. Each of these actors is underutilized in my humble opinion, but here they all shine. The filmmaking is incredibly uneven but shows some promise for better things to come from filmmaker Kevin Macdonald if he can focus his style and refine things a bit. The real star here is interpersonal relationships told from the point of view of people who outwardly hate everyone, a surprisingly engaging dynamic.
Video: (1080p Widescreen 2.40:1) The video presentation of BLACK SEA is beautiful, claustrophobic, gritty and torturous all at once, as I imagine it would be deep below the surface of the ocean.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) The audio for BLACK SEA is also very nicely presented with a lossless 5.1 Master Audio track that carries both the deep bassoon of underwater and the much more spotty voices with all manner of accents.
A Dive into the BLACK SEA (05:16) A pretty great little feature about the movie; BLACK SEA deserves to have something this quick and tight to bring people into the fold.
Audio Commentary with director Kevin Macdonald: Though the director of BLACK SEA doesn’t start talking for a few minutes, which is a little unnerving, when he does finally come on he talks about every aspect of making the film and has such an intimate presentation as to make the commentary feel like something special, like you’re sitting with a friend who is telling you about his movie.
BLACK SEA on Blu-ray is packaged with the DVD feature film and a Digital HD Digital Copy, redeemable through UltraViolet outlets (like Vudu) and on iTunes.