Movie Review: Black Sea is claustrophobic


Academy Award-winning director Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void, The Last King of Scotland) returns with an under the sea thriller starring Jude Law. But what’s going on with that Scottish accent? Bobby Townsend investigates:

The story of Black Sea is thus. Jude Law plays a newly jobless former naval officer, who puts together a misfit crew of sailors in a bid to find a sunken Nazi U-boat, rumoured to contain a fortune in gold. While that sounds ludicrous, the set-up ensures it doesn’t feel so as the drama unfolds. When this ragbag gang descend into their beaten-up old submarine, their motivation and back-stories feel genuine and believable. Obviously things don’t go to plan (it’d be a short and uneventful film if they did) and after an act of violence and a startling discovery, the shit well and truly hits the fan. And if there is somewhere you don’t want such a thing to happen, it’s in a sub. As the crew members turn on each other, things reach boiling point and they must decide if they work together to complete the mission, or pull against each other and die divided underwater.

First up, we need to talk about Jude Law’s Scottish accent. Apparently he is Aberdonian, although people who hail from that fine city might be surprised to learn that. For the first act of the movie, you can’t help but focus on it and try to figure out if it’s good or woeful. In truth, it’s neither. It’s certainly no Mrs Doubtfire, but it is mighty distracting and one wonders why Macdonald wanted Law to play a Scot in the first place. There is no real need for him to be from there. Anyway, as the film progresses it becomes less of an issue, but there are still moments where it edges towards being a bit “Och Aye The Noo”. The main problem is that, at all times, you never forget that it’s Jude Law doing his very best Scottish accent. It never feels quite natural enough.

Wonky accent aside, Law is definitely convincing in a role which takes him out of his pigeonhole. So long the handsome up-n-comer, here he plays a downbeat, gruff blue-collar divorced father who is having a rough old time and is thoroughly pissed off about it. He sets his mind on getting the gold and nothing will stop him.

As the narrative continues, the characters’ motives start to feel slightly less plausible. Also, it becomes harder and harder to really like any of them. They’re pretty unpleasant, bar one or two good eggs. Do we really care if they survive? Well, the answer is still, yes we do, simply because of the fine level of tension and suspense that Macdonald creates. And there is a real feeling of intense claustrophobia too. You can almost smell the sweat, the grease and the dirt.

This won’t go down as one of the all-time great submarine movies, but it is a satisfying, nail-biting, largely enjoyable thriller which is nasty in a good way and in which Jude Law’s performance is interesting, regardless of whether you buy his accent.

bobby townsend


Review by Bobby Townsend. Black Sea hits Australian cinemas on 9 April.