If you can envision "The Dirty Dozen" meets "McHale's Navy", you have the essence of "Black Sea". A mixed crew of English-speaking and Russian-speaking submarine experts takes to the Georgian waters of the Black Sea in search of a sunken German U-Boat from World War II. And why? They believe it holds millions of dollars in gold bullion bars left over from a failed WWII deal between Russia and Germany. And these crewmen have nothing to lose --- but their lives.
The captain of the covert expedition is Robinson (Jude Law), a seafaring veteran who has just lost his job after 11 years. He is estranged from his wife and son because of his line of work, and is not happy with is now ex-employer. When he learns of a buried treasure from a man named Daniels (Scoot McNairy), he enlists a seasoned crew to find the loot, but the hunt is fraught with danger, not the least of which is being caught by the Russian Navy, which would frown upon this invasion of its waters.
Once the men find a suitable, i.e., working, submarine, "Black Sea" still has a good 90 minutes or so remaining to hold our attention. And it does. It's not "Das Boot", Wolfgang Petersen's 1981 masterpiece, but it is worthy of our time. Law has shaved his head, added bulk to his physique, and maintains a viable Scottish accent throughout. It's far superior to his lighthearted shenanigans with Robert Downey Jr. in the Sherlock Holmes films of recent years.
While "Black Sea" is predictable, especially with the almost expected treachery from one "bad apple" in the crew, the movie's tension is palpable, particularly with its extended climax. These final moments are very well staged as chaos becomes the order of the day. Kudos to director Kevin McDonald ("The Last King of Scotland").
Ben Mendelsohn plays Fraser, the one crewman who creates havoc on the sub, beginning with his distaste for the gruel all the men must eat. You'd think that a sizeable share of $182 million in gold would compensate for a lot of temporary misery, but screenwriter Dennis Kelly gives this cliched villain a major role. To Kelly's credit, there is an unforeseen twist in the script, and it throws the voyage into complete turmoil. Captain Robinson tries mightily to hold everything together, but cramped, dirty and smelly conditions, plus men's natural greed, take their toll.
Outside of Law and McNairy, the cast is made up of character actors unknown to American audiences, including Russian actors famous in their homeland, but not here. I always have found unfamiliar faces, rather than stars, an asset to authenticity in action/adventure films.
A new actor, 21-year-old Englishman Bobby Schofield, plays Tobin, an inexperienced sailor who talks his way onto the crew, and he is quite good. He doesn't, for a minute, seem out of place with all the veteran actors in the film. But the best performance, outside of Law, is delivered by Grigoriy Dobrygin as Morozov, an English-speaking Russian who serves as the submarine's navigator. His emotional breakdown when everything around him is collapsing is very touching.
The music by British composer Ilan Eshkeri ("The Young Victoria", "Still Alice") meshes perfectly with the action sequences. And to further evoke realism, McDonald found a real submarine in which to shoot portions of the movie, helping to convey the claustrophobic and grungy atmosphere of life in a submerged metal tube.
Opinion: See It Now!