Jude Law in a submarine with some gold. If that sounds like a guess in the game of Clue, you're not far off, as the drama-thriller Black Sea, like the whodunit board game, is imbued with claustrophobia and two-dimensional characters, and seems disappointingly predictable for most of its duration. But thanks to some competent direction and smart surprises in its third act, it stays afloat and provides a fair amount of entertainment in the process.
Newly fired from his 11-year job as a submarine captain for a marine-salvage company, and estranged from his wife and young son, Robinson (Law) is a man without dignity. "Daddy lives on a boat," his wife tells their boy before leaving him for a richer man.
To compensate for these marital and professional injustices, he seeks not just a steady paycheck, but the respect that men of higher social status and wealth have stripped from him. But above all, he wants revenge on his former employee, and the chance at that revenge surfaces when another fired employee reveals a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for adventure and extraordinary riches.
His former co-worker explains that, before he was fired, he learned about a recently discovered Nazi sub at the bottom of the Black Sea that may contain millions of dollars' worth of gold. The bullion was being shipped from Russia to Germany in the early days of World War II but sank before it reached its destination. Because virtually no one knows the location of the U-boat and few possess the skills necessary to retrieve it, Robinson is uniquely positioned to get the job done and split most of the money between him and his crew, whom he handpicks from among British and Russian submariners. And thus begin the contrived conflicts.
Predictably, things don't go as planned. The political and language barriers spark conflict almost immediately, producing less-than-believable events and such inspired lines as "We live together or we die together." Still, director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) and writer Dennis Kelly layer on enough intrigue to prevent their simple, though admittedly slick-looking, production from running aground.
Law leads a cast of lesser-knowns, and except for an effective Bobby Schofield (as a reluctant, wet-behind-the-ears participant in the voyage) and a memorable but unsubtle Scoot McNairy (as one of the mission's financiers), he's the only one who stands out. And though he's engaging as always, this is not his finest work, and his Scottish dialect is distracting.
Like a far better and more famous film about a misguided hunt for gold, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Macdonald's movie is not so much an adventure-heist flick as a dramatic commentary on greed and paranoia. But, ironically, it's at its best when it rejects the tired old clichés about human betrayal and instead embraces some old-fashioned twists that had been kept cleverly shrouded in the murky waters of its somewhat shallow screenplay.