Thrillers, especially modern ones, tend to follow a basic pattern. The audience is given a portion of the story early and allowed to try and figure out the rest as the film develops. Usually, viewers are trying to read the clues and figure out whodunit or some variation therein. Then comes the plot twist in the third act, which, if you have been following along closely enough, you might see coming. Bad thrillers are like children’s morality plays: viewers can see their endings coming an hour or more away, and any actual “thrills” are lost along the way.
But every so often there comes a film with none of the usual trappings. “Black Sea” is one such film. Ironically, given its title and subject matter, the film is not very deep. There is only one minor “twist” to the story, and even that one is practically an after-thought. And yet, the film is wholly engrossing and completely effective as a thriller.
“Black Sea” centers around Jude Law’s Captain Robinson, a submarine pilot who was recently relieved of his job working for an undersea scrap and salvage company. Through flashbacks, we learn he has sacrificed his family for his career — his wife leaves him for a man who is not inaccessible for months at a time and takes their son with her — and now Robinson feels betrayed by a company that fired him to save a buck.
Sitting in a bar with some friends who have suffered similar fates, Robinson finds a way to stick it to his old bosses: the company has the salvage rights to a German U-Boat they found in the Black Sea — one that is rumored to have $180 million in gold bars sitting in its holds. The company, however, is bogged down in the red tape of a shifting political climate and cannot salvage the wreck right away, giving Robinson time to field a pirate crew, secure a sub and grab the gold first.
With the help of a shadowy financial backer, a mothballed Russian sub is procured, and a crew of like-minded men — half-English, half-Russian — is assembled. Everyone is stuffed into the claustrophobic confines of the submarine, submerged below the Russian Navy that patrols the waters of the Black Sea. The crew is given a curious piece of mental arithmetic to mull over: Robinson promises every man an equal share of the loot, but if an untimely accident were to befall one crewman, everyone else’s share sees a little bump.
From there on out there is very little to figure out about the plot, but writer Dennis Kelly and director Kevin Macdonald have stitched together such a tightly told story, that you remain on the edge of your seat regardless. Even when you figure out the ultimate ending before it gets there (and if you are paying attention, you will), it does not matter. The film effectively grabs you and plays with your sense of danger.
The film is not a masterpiece. The plot is thin, and there are some liberties taken with physics and plot devices that will require a little more suspension of disbelief than they should. But for people who love a good, suspenseful film that does not rely upon a lot of jump scares or unlikely plot twists, “Black Sea” brings a lot to the table. CV