Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Brawny boys brave bottom of the BLACK SEA in Kevin Macdonalds' new submarine-set thriller

We haven't seen a good submarine epic (or near-epic) in some time (David Twohy's marvelous WWII genre-jumper, Below, is the last I can recall), so getting a new one via the worthwhile filmmaker Kevin Macdonald (How I Live Now and My Enemy's Enemy) is a welcome addition to the small pack. Mr. Macdonald, shown below, is a professional, versatile journeyman director and occasional writer whose work is usually a pleasure to view. He does not disappoint here, either, although his latest effort, BLACK SEA, proves a little too long (at a nearly two-hour length), while offering up a few too many cliches (the nut-case crew member who should never have been allowed on this voyage, but well, there he is, anyway) for maximum impact.

Yet, if Black Sea stays a tad this side of maximum, it still proves mightily enjoyable: smartly fast-paced, well-cast and -acted, and burnished with a number of first-class special effects that should often keep you, as they say, glued to the screen. Screenwriter Dennis Kelly has set up situation and character introductions with speed and efficiency, and in Macdonald's strong hands, the well-chosen cast brings it all to sharp and immediate life. The movie's capable lead actor Jude Law, below, plays a seaman who is downsized from his job in the first scene, then soon finds himself involved in a plot to find some gold long buried at sea via the sinking of a Russian ship during World War II. If the story seems a tad "manufactured," well, we're in thriller territory: Best to not ask too many questions and simply "get on with it."

While Mr. Law (shown above and below) has lost some (but not nearly all) of his pretty-boy looks as age has overtaken his face with lines and growths, he has lost none of the particular magnetism he's long possessed. Here, he helps to hold not simply the crew of his submarine together but the movie itself.

"Getting on with it" is something Macdonald handles in spades, as we're thrust into a crew made up of half Brits and half Russians, with one odd and claustrophobic American (Scoot McNairy, below) tossed in for good measure (and plot mechanics).

The wild card in the bunch is played by Aussie actor Ben Mendelsohn (below), who is always good and often quite scary. Here, he seems initially more subdued than usual (but every bit as creepy), though it is not long before he explodes, nearly taking the entire ship along with him.

Though it was made clear early on that this kind of guy should not be part of the mission, Law's Captain takes him anyway (one of those nonsensical decisions/cliches that lessens the strength of the film), and some of his crew then lives -- or dies -- to regret it.

The Russian side of the equation gets less of our attention due to the language barrier but is brought to intelligent and gruff life by actors the likes of Grigory Dobrygin (above) and Sergey Puskepalis (below).

Along the way, we get a few surprises (one very big one), some undersea exploration in diving suits, explosions, betrayals, and the usual -- suspenseful and also surprising -- question, typical of this kind of movie: Who will survive?

It all adds up to propulsive, if somewhat been-there-done-that, fun and games, with men just being men, in all their raging alpha-dog vs kindly mentor-type array, so we can take our pick of whom to root for and/or denounce.

Black Sea -- from Focus Features and running 115 minutes -- opens this Friday, January 23, on both U.S. coasts and across the U.S. the following Friday, January 30.

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