Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Deep trouble

At the bottom of the Black Sea things don’t decay much. Time stands still, or, rather, time continues, people die, but things don’t corrode. Rust sleeps. It’s like a deep-water museum down there, I guess. Is this because of what they call anoxic water? I dunno. This is a film blog, not a blog on hydrology. But I’m fascinated by these places in the world, dark deep places almost no one goes to, where such phenomena occur. It’s one of the things that drew me to Black Sea, this submarine movie that, despite the presence of Jude Law, apparently slid past the gatekeepers of theatrical distribution and has since surfaced online, on DVD, Blu-ray, et cetera.

Things don’t change much at the bottom of the Black Sea and, it turns out, things don’t change much in the manly world of submarine movies either. Written by Dennis Kelly and directed by Kevin MacDonald, the prolific Scottish filmmaker who did Last King of Scotland and a really quite good historical actioner called The Eagle, Black Sea is about a laid off, pissed off Scottish submarine captain (Law) who gathers a rogue crew comprised of Britons and Russians to find a sunken WWII-era U-boat rumored to hold an offering of gold bricks Stalin was trying bribe Hitler with as a way to forestall Nazi invasion. The movie in its essence could have been made in the 1950s, and, indeed, there are times you sort of wish it was, with Don Siegel or Sam Fuller or John Huston or the young Stanley Kubrick at the helm. Those versions might have been meaner and leaner, while still keeping the film’s political undercurrents, or over-currents, as in overstated currents, perfectly readable. But I’m okay with MacDonald’s version, which is certainly more tolerable than, say, a Michael Bay version, which would of course be something else altogether. MacDonald’s a little ponderous and a little sentimental at the end with the flashbacks and a little too fond of unmotivated camera movement. And he really could have tempered Kelly’s almost comically leaden foreshadowing. But the movie sails. Or sinks. You know what I mean.

It’s no spoiler to say things aren’t going to end well. Kelly bluntly facilitates dramatic tension by having Law recruit a murderous psychopath to be the group’s ace diver. Law actually knows the guy’s a psychopath, which is what I meant by comically leaden foreshadowing. That are there are no escape suits and they can’t use the radio and all the Brits and the Russkies fucking hate each other and can’t get over Law’s insistence that everyone, him included, get an equal share of the money. Yes, Black Sea charts the failure of Marxism in a sub-culture (heh-heh) corrupted by capitalist-generated greed. And by a psychopath. Did I mention the psychopath is played by Aussie actor Ben Mendelsohn? He’s pretty enjoyable. And Law, I must admit, hold his own, surprisingly, given that he has to command the respect of a bunch of really rough fellows. Konstantin Khabenskiy is very funny as Law’s lead partner-in-crime. Sergey Veksler is the crew’s sonar guy, the “the best ears in the Russian navy.” I love the image, a sea of calm in the midst of this very macho submarine movie, of Veksler perched Buddha-like on a stool, cups on his ears, eyes closed, just listening to echoes at the bottom of the ocean. 

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