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Black Sea

Year: 2015
Studio: Focus Features
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Producer: Kevin Macdonald/Charles Steel
Writer: Dennis Kelly
Cast: Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Michael Smiley

This movie's sure to sink (get it?) in all the kerfuffle of awards season, which is a shame. It's a tightly wound, very cool little thriller with no pretensions, a grimy authenticity and characters who are grown up and at times gleefully nasty.

Jude Law does a very serviceable blue collar Scot (native Scots will probably smirk at the accent, but it works perfectly fine for everyone else) as Robinson, a former submarine captain laid off from an exploration company and facing a very tough existence in a world that doesn't need men of his type, education, age and qualifications.

After wondering what he's going to do along with similarly grizzled mates at the pub, Robinson hears about a unique opportunity. After one of his circle of old colleagues talks about buried treasure, Robinson is summoned to meet the rich industrialist looking for men to find it.

A German U-boat loaded with gold bullion has been sitting in the middle of the Black Sea since World War II, unclaimed and with few even knowing it exists. If they can pull together enough craggy, tough men who can keep it quiet, he'll bankroll a creaky, rusty old sub from a corrupt Eastern European navy officer so they can find it, netting them all quite a payday.

Robinson takes a motley collection of former associates, unfriendly Russian submariners and a kid who's a bit too wet behind the ears and pierces the icy depths.

No sooner has the surface closed over the top of them than the cracks start to show, whether it's from diver and confirmed maniac Fraser (Ben Mendelsohn) threatening the fragile peace to the broker of the deal (Scoot McNairy) who might know more than he's letting on.

As the try to keep the ship around them and their own moods intact, tensions fray from one end to the other. When tempers or metal buckle, it's about the worst place for any of them to be trapped together, Robinson left desperately trying to hold everything together.

With nowhere close to the budget of most undersea adventures, some of the exterior sub scenes are a little bit video gamey, but they take nothing away from the old fashioned thrills going on inside, or in several well-executed set pieces like the nail-gnawing ocean floor walk.

Kevin McDonald's a talented filmmaker but he's had missteps thanks to problems with tone in the past, from the twee YA styling of How I Live Now to State of Play, which didn't know if it was a serious political statement or an old school thriller.

In Black Sea he's used the talents that gave those films their most successful elements to make a pure thrill ride without any ideas above its station. With everything stripped away and only serious fun left, you're reminded how good a director he is.

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