The shadow of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre looms heavily over Black Sea – a fine piece of genre filmmaking that makes an efficient fist of the whole heist-crew-seek-gold-then-turn-on-each-other routine. There are other influences obviously, but Sierra Madre remains the key text director Kevin Macdonald’s film borrows from. Yet Macdonald also brings enough of his own fresh spin on the well-worn tale to engage and grip the viewer, delivering a relevant and timely morality tale with plenty of suspense and thrills.
Recently laid off salvage captain Robinson (Jude Law with a slightly questionable Scottish accent), puts together a crew to try and locate a sunken Nazi U-boat laden with gold bullion deep in the Caspian Sea. His crew include various stock characters; for instance wet-behind-the-ears Tobin (Bobby Schofield) and the obligatory psycho Fraser (Ben Mendelsohn). Out of necessity, Robinson is forced to charter a very old, rusty Russian submarine, which complicates matters because of the need for (mostly) non-English speaking Russians amongst the crew. The Russians are immediately targets of hostility from the Brits who begin to grumble over Robinson’s insistence on equal shares of the loot.
It doesn’t take long for disgruntlement to escalate into greed, sabotage and murder, and Robinson adopts an increasingly Ahab/William Bligh attitude to proceedings. Tension, twists and turns ensue, and claustrophobic viewers in particular will find their pulses racing at some of the nerve-shredding set pieces.
In spite of the clichés this is terrific stuff – largely thanks to committed performances, Macdonald’s deft helming and Dennis Kelly’s screenplay, which takes the time to add a modicum of social comment on recent economic times. Yet although Robinson and his crew are victims of the recession, modernisation and heartless corporate management (the opening scene where the seasoned Robinson is laid off by some early twenty-something corporate lackey is particularly telling), ultimately Robinson only has himself to blame for neglecting what is really important in life. The film provides a suitably sobering reminder to value spouses, children and family above one’s career, before it is too late.