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Black Sea's Thrilling, Twisty Ride Freshens Up the Heist Genre

<i>Black Sea</i>'s Thrilling, Twisty Ride Freshens Up the Heist Genre

DVD Release Date: May 5, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: January 23, 2015
Rating: R (for language throughout, some graphic images and violence
Genre: Thriller
Run Time: 115 min.
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Cast: Jude Law, Jodie Whittaker, Ben Mendlesohn, Scott McNairy, Tobias Menzies, Daniel Ryan, Karl Davies

It’s no secret that January is when most of the stinkers (Mortdecai, anyone?) show up in a theater near you, so whenever something manages to capture your attention that's not one of the Christmas holdovers, well, that's worth celebrating.

While the trailers for Black Sea suggested little more than your standard-issue heist movie, it’s actually a surprisingly thrilling and twisty morality tale. Starring Jude Law (Dom Hemingway) in one of his best performances in recent memory, Black Sea is a multi-layered portrayal of a man desperate for revenge after being fired by the company for whom he's sacrificed everything, including his family.

Adding another intriguing layer without resorting to annoying preachiness, Black Sea is also a timely commentary on the corruption that often goes hand in hand with capitalism, and the shady lengths some will go to not only acquire wealth, but to hold on to it at any cost.

Sporting a thick Scottish accent from Aberdeen and the feisty resolve of one in desperate need of a paycheck, Captain Robinson (Law) and his former co-workers are presented a seemingly rare opportunity to bounce back when an unscrupulous businessman basically makes them an offer they can't refuse. In exchange for their help in retrieving missing Nazi gold, they can split 40 percent of the recovered treasure. They're also excited by the unexpected prospect of making amends with their previous employer.

As Robinson's crew begins spending their days on a submarine plunging the depths of the Black Sea for the missing treasure, the filmmakers do a masterful job of capturing the sheer sense of claustrophobia that comes with co-existing in such tight quarters. It's such an interactive experience that even we in the audience can start to feel a little seasick. That said, it's always rewarding when a film has such a strong sense of place, and Black Sea offers that in spades.

Despite a bit of a slow start, the screenwriters quickly offer us a steady rhythm of engaging storytelling that not only allows us to get to know our protagonist in a way most thrillers don't, but keeps us guessing as various plot points play out. In an effort to remain spoiler-free, I won't pontificate on the particulars, but what I will say is Black Sea is one of the rare films where the big reveal is surprisingly clever.

If you've watched any movie where a big boat practically serves as another character, it won't be surprising when things go seriously awry in a hurry in Black Sea. Aside from the obvious battle against nature, the most challenging battles are of the man-made variety. Whether it's friction between co-workers or looming outside forces, the stakes just keep escalating with every passing wave.

Black Sea has an almost-retro feeling and aesthetic quality that evokes the Humphrey Bogart classic The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. It's neither dazzling special effects nor gimmicky twists of plot that steal the show. Instead, a winning turn from Law, the strong relationship dynamics ever-present in the script and a storyline that keeps you dialed-in until the credits roll give the familiar heist genre a new twist, a welcome surprise in the month where most movies go to die.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Abundant social drinking.
  • Language/Profanity: The bulk of the film's R-rating is for language, and full gamut of profanity is utilized throughout, particularly the f-word. There are also a couple of instances where God's name is misused and some racial epithets. 
  • Sex/Nudity: Brief references to sexual acts but nothing actually shown. Numerous flashbacks to Captain Robinson's once-fulfilling family life but nothing overly intimate is shown.
  • Violence: Like Gone Girl before it (although nothing in Black Sea is nearly as graphic), so much of Black Sea relies on twists and turns the audience never sees coming. In the effort to remain spoiler free, know that many, many characters' lives end in particularly unpleasant and occasionally gruesome ways.

Publication date: January 22, 2014