- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2015

There was a time in Hollywood where genre-bending was all the rage, and this year’s first major entry in cinema hybrid comes in the form of “Black Sea,” a combination submarine/heist thriller from Scottish helmer Kevin Macdonald, who directed the Oscar-winning “Last King of Scotland.”

“Black Sea” stars Jude Law as Robinson, a recently laid-off dockworker in Aberdeen who brings together a ragtag band of Scots and Russians to seek out a shipment of Soviet gold hidden at the bottom of the Black Sea. Bringing in the heist conventions, the backstory of the gold is that Stalin sent it by sea as “tribute money” to Hitler to stave off a Nazi invasion.

Mr. Law is in rare form as Robinson. The Englishman assays a convincing Scottish accent, issuing epithets against the capitalist class — whom he consistently refers to as “they” — while captaining a bilingual submarine toward the final subsurface destination of Stalin’s shipment of bullion.

Robinson proclaims that each man in the crew will get an equal share. Unsurprisingly, things do not go as planned.

Mr. Macdonald said in a previous interview with The Times that the “fun” part of submarine movies is using the tried-and-true cliches of popping dials and cracking bulkheads as motifs for the audience versed in the subgenre. While “Black Sea” unsurprisingly hits all of the beats of both submarine and heist procedural, it is that familiarity — combined with the melding of the two formulas — that provides for a satisfying, if unsurprising, plot.

The film hinges on the performance by Mr. Law, whose no-longer-quite-young face and eyes smolder with enmity at the one-percenters who control his life and “forced” him into becoming a submariner criminal. What the film lacks in plot originality it makes up for in riffing on contemporary notions of economic inequality and tensions between Russia and the West. (Some of the film was even shot in Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula prior to its takeover by Vladimir Putin.)

That riches fire men’s hearts and lead to double- and triple-crosses is not new (no honor among thieves here), but taking that angst below surface level — and all of the danger that the sea presents — makes for a tense two hours of edge-of-seat anxiety.

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