Never let it be said that men in our society don’t have their own brand of nonsense about maintaining a youthful physical appearance. I’m not saying it isn’t way harder for women in Hollywood, but everyone really could just give a guy a break and leave Jude Law alone about his hair loss. Does a receding hairline really mean one can no longer be a leading man? I direct those flapping their gums about Jude Law’s supposed plummeting stock to hairless hotties Taye Diggs, Patrick Stewart, Woody Harrelson, The Rock and Vin Diesel…( OR click here for a list) On the positive side, all this fuss has either driven him, or more likely allowed him, to seek out quirkier, more diverse roles of late. Case in point is the new nail-biter Black Sea, a heist suspense-thriller that largely takes place onboard a rusty submarine, ably directed by Scottish director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland).
Law adopts one killer Aberdeen burr, clearly of his own accord, since nowhere is it mentioned where Captain Robinson hangs his hat while on dry land. It gives his character a sort of blunt, working class everyman quality that keeps audiences sympathetic even as he goes to the breaking point and beyond. Robinson gets the unceremonious shaft from his longtime employer and winds up taking a job leading ten English and Russian men in a sub going after gold trapped at the bottom of the Black Sea in a German WW2 U-boat. Though the supporting characters are a cliche-fest straight out of Central Casting, the actors bend the story to their will, keeping us engaged until several plot twists put the audiences’ stomachs into knots and the crew in mortal danger.
While we could all have traipsed in wearing t-shirts saying “this will not end well”, it nevertheless proves to be an engaging two hour stress test, with co-stars Scoot McNairy as the weasle-y Daniels (Argo, Monsters) and Ben Mendelsohn (Starred Up, The Dark Knight Rises) as the psychopathic Fraser bringing interesting nuance to two highly unlikeable characters. McNairy in particular finds a way in to Daniels that makes us believe he really is doing what he thinks is best from his perspective, no small task as the movie progresses. Jude Law shows us why he is a two time Oscar nominee, diving in to his role such that no matter how determined and off-the-rails his Robinson becomes, we desperately want him to guide the crew through the chaos to survival and success.
There is an underlying communal revenge fantasy at the heart of the film that uses our various experiences of the economic crisis to manipulate our cinematic loyalties, and that mixed with heavy doses of testosterone bulldozes us through the clunkier aspects of the film. The flashbacks Robinson has of the former family life he so misses seem a heavy handed and simplistic way to explain his current state of mind, and pull the audience away from what could have been more complex sub crew character development. Just when director McDonald might well have doubled down and tightened the shot and the tension, he cuts away from the claustrophobia and gets visually expansive. It’s a choice of showing what drives Robinson that doesn’t work that well, but gratefully doesn’t derail the story, due in no small part to Law’s compelling and tightly wound performance.
While not breaking new ground cinematically, ultimately this is a good yarn, a tense two hour potential catharsis for those who yearn to scream “take this job and shove it”, or those who want a dark distraction that will fill them with schadenfreuder. Because… let’s face it. No matter how cold it is, or how bad things get at work, we aren’t at the bottom of the sea battling to stay alive in a 50 year old submarine.
3 out of 5 stars