Courtesy of Focus Features

Black Sea

06:07 January 30, 2015
By: Fritz Esker

**1/2 out of ****

Director Kevin McDonald helmed one of the best documentaries of this century in Touching the Void (stop reading this review and go watch it immediately if you haven’t seen it).  His latest effort into fictional film (he has also directed Forest Whitaker to a Best Actor Oscar in The Last King of Scotland) is one of those films that’s difficult to review.  It’s neither particularly gripping nor decidedly wrongheaded at any moment.  It sustains a level of mild interest from start to finish and the performances and direction are all competent.  But there’s nothing to lavish praise nor scorn on.

Jude Law plays a recently laid off submarine captain who is lured into a mission to retrieve a fortune in gold from a sunken sub (the treasure was a payoff from Stalin to Hitler before the latter broke the non-aggression pact).  He has a motley crew of Scots and Russians, many of whom are incapable of communicating with one another.

As expected, the tale turns into an underwater The Treasure of the Sierra Madre as the sailors become suspicious of each other and the banker (Scoot McNairy) representing the mission’s chief investor.  A psychopath (Ben Mendelsohn) on board for his exceptional dive skills naturally causes trouble.  His character is one element that does ring false; he feels too much like a walking, talking device to keep the plot gears churning, and sure enough, he’s the one who starts the chain of events that leads to catastrophe. 

While it’s likely to be forgotten, Black Sea does have just enough going for it that it might be the kind of film that people one day enjoy surfing channels on a sick day or during a thunderstorm.

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