One of the most underrated directors working today has to be Kevin Macdonald. The man is a master documentarian whose highlights include Touching the Void (one of the best documentaries ever and the film that birthed the survival documentary genre) and Life in a Day (an interesting exercise in format), and has even done solid work with feature films (State of Play is great and The Eagle was unfairly panned when it was released). So it was disappointing to see that his latest work, Black Sea, isn’t very good. Macdonald has always had a way of making not very cinematic things very cinematic, and his ability to do that just fails here. As the claustrophobic film isn’t able to make the audience feel anything.
Black Sea follows a down on his luck submarine captain (Jude Law) that finally listens to his drunken friend’s talk about lost Nazi gold. With no family and job left, the captain assembles a team to go after the gold, but things become a lot more problematic when the half Russian and half English crew begin to interact with each other within the close confines of the treasure hunting submarine.
Kevin Macdonald is certainly a better documentarian than a feature filmmaker but he does have a knack for making a lot out of small-scale stories that normally wouldn’t be filmable. On first thought, this submarine adventure would seem to be right up his alley, but his directing here is just bland as he loses the plot and the cast while finding a way to make the claustrophobic setting have no atmosphere at all. It may not help that Dennis Kelly’s script is as predictable as it gets, but Macdonald normally does better than what he does here as none of his usual trademarks are present.
It’s also really disappointing to see such a talented cast leave no impact on you. Jude Law tries hard in such a cliché-riddled role, and mostly comes out unscathed (but it certainly isn’t up to par with his recent string of good performances ranging from career best work in Dom Hemingway to his comedic scene stealing work in Spy). However, usually great character actors such as Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn struggle to even standout from a crowded cast, and A Most Wanted Man breakout Grigoriy Dobrygin gets lost in the film.
Black Sea is a major disappointment from a usually reliable director.