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Black Sea ***

Is it worth $10? Yes

As the day begins for Robinson (this film is about manly men at sea, so last names only, thank you), he’s fired from his job as a submarine captain for a salvage company. “I lost my family to this job,” he crustily says, immediately making us question his values. It’s the only job he’s ever known – what’s he to do now?

Treasure hunt, that’s what. “Black Sea” follows Robinson (Jude Law) as he assembles a team of 12 seafarers to search for two tons of gold allegedly left behind by Hitler in the depths of the Black Sea. The crew has the expected mix of jaded veterans, wide-eyed newbies, cantankerous old cranks, and a chef who spits on the food to clean it.

Robinson believes he knows where the gold is and leads the men accordingly, but tension and greed within the six British and six Russians on board immediately suggests not all will make it through alive. Still, for as predictable and inexplicable as it is at times, the suspense is often palpable as the situation worsens and we rarely get a break from the claustrophobic confines of the submarine. It’s dark, dank and must smell awful, simultaneously feeling authentic and like a place I’d never want to be.

Director Kevin Macdonald is steady and assured as he makes the submarine both another character and a metaphor. The cavernous walls, outdated technology and years of rust and decay within the submarine frequently remind us that where the submariners are is just as much a danger as their clear dislike for one another. The boat also malfunctions repeatedly, and as it does panic ensues. Accordingly, the further the submarine sinks the more despair sinks into its crew – note how the morale and desperation of the men gets worse as the sub reaches new depths. This is a subtle touch but something a skilled filmmaker should be able to pull off, and Macdonald succeeds here.

Less successful, frustratingly, are the accents, many of which are thick and difficult to understand. Even Law, whose character is the sturdy no-nonsense leader, sports a thick Scottish brogue that occasionally indiscernibly riffs from the side of his mouth. It’s important to commit to your character, but not to the point that you lose the audience.

Still, this is a tense, gritty drama that forces you to embrace all the gruff machismo it throws your way. They’re all flawed men from the start, and adding an element of avarice also makes them dangerous. You don’t necessarily expect a study in human nature from “Black Sea,” but it’s these layers that make it a film worth watching.

Did you know?

Macdonald told Variety that at one point a flame retardant mixed with chlorine to turn the water bright green. It was drained into a tank that was simultaneously being used as the Nile River for Ridley’s Scott’s “Exodus,” which means Scott was turning the water red at the same time that Macdonald was making it green.

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