In Black Sea, Jude Law wants you to know that he’s serious about making some dough headline in a formula submarine picture. As Robinson, a Scottish captain who accepts the job of piloting a ship in search of Nazi gold at the bottom of the Black Sea, Law gets his hair cropped short, hones his brogue, and squints a lot. Years of quasi-stardom have dulled his pansexual aggression; now he’s merely aggressive but with real pretty eyes, and I started to think how Sam Worthington or another UK third-rater could have played the part.
Directed by Kevin Macdonald as if just introduced to the script, Black Sea boasts several moments in which characters express rage at the injustice to which billionaires subject working class blokes without stopping to consider whether white-screened fantasy sequences of Law, his ugly kid, and wife splashing in the surf are just as banal. The movie’s certainly well-timed: polls show that the American public wants populist solutions to wealth inequality. An even more relevant scene unfolds in a bar: Robinson can’t understand why he worked so damn hard for so little money and lost his wife to boot. Who’s responsible? Minutes later a sequence featuring a sneering plutocrat eating a prim breakfast as he waits for Law to accept the assignment draws clear lines between good and bad. Many audience members won’t object to ripping off almost two hundred million in gold ingots (“Disguised as an old-fashioned adventure film, Black Sea is a really a jeremiad for the new gilded age,” Stephen Holden wrote in his review). “I’m not goin’ home poo-ah!” Robinson shouts during one tense moment.
But Robinson won’t get screwed by the same system. He guarantees every crew member two million dollars (that’s before he realizes how much the gold’s really worth). He’s ready to shoot or punch out any dissenters (“We live together and die together!”). Betraying its indebtedness to the Alien movies, Dennis Kelly’s script introduces an eighteen-year-old moppet named Tobin (Bobby Schofield) to whom Robinson becomes protective, almost fatherly, the son he never had, you find yourself thinking (the crew kid Tobin about his virginity; it turns out he’s got a girl pregnant, awwww). And in case you missed Paul Reiser, Black Sea offers Daniels (Scoot McNairy), the stuttering suit introduced so he can trap Russians in an airlock and walk away going dum-dee-dum. His fate is sealed the second you see the cut of his jacket.
Black Sea identifies the factions with an insolent quickness. First, only one of the Russian members (Grigoriy Dobrygin) speaks English. Within the sonar operator’s burly chest beats a pure heart. And so on. Macdonald knows — and he knows we know — that these bits are mere tags of characterization, for we’re waiting for the first person to die and in what grisly manner. If Black Sea‘s message — insofar as it can be said to have one besides “If you’re in a Black Sea sub, make sure everyone speaks the same language” — is that the sight of gold reduces even the noblest plebe into the sniveling rich man whom he despises, then the filmmakers should have told the story from the point of view of the rich men.