- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2015

When “Black Sea” director Kevin Macdonald found himself shooting footage for the new Jude Law thriller in Sevastopol, located on the Crimean Peninsula, there was no way to know that Russia would seize the disputed territory before the film ever bowed.

“Probably not a lot of people know where that [was before the invasion],” Mr. Macdonald said in an interview with The Washington Times. Mr. Macdonald and his cinematographer, Christopher Ross, initially just shot some background footage, fully intending to make a second go at the forbidden locale some months later with star Mr. Law and a larger crew in tow. “But by the time we got around to do that,” Mr. Macdonald said, “things had blown up and we couldn’t get back. So we did consider whether or not suddenly the film had become a period piece of the time we had to make it, which is strange,” he said with a sardonic laugh.

“Black Sea” stars Mr. Law as a Scottish submariner who works for a dockside firm in Aberdeen. When he is unceremoniously laid off, he assembles a ragtag band of fellow undesirables to mount a quest for a shipment of Soviet gold sent by sea as “tribute money” to Adolf Hitler in the hopes of staving off a Nazi invasion.

“They had the Russian pact,” Mr. Macdonald explains of the meeting of fact and fiction, “but when Stalin signed it, the Russian military wasn’t strong enough to ever fight the Germans.”

The fictional courier ship — and its gold — sank to the bottom of the Black Sea, so Mr. Law’s character, Robinson, and his band of Scots and Russians embark on a contemporary below-surface quest for the lost fortune.

“It’s called the Black Sea because it is anoxic at depth, which means that nothing decays below [a certain sea level],” Mr. Macdonald said of the titular body of water. “You go on YouTube and [can see videos] of Roman galleons that have sunk and the mast is still standing.”

Mr. Law plays against his own type in the film. Robinson is unshaven and dirty, a working-class anti-hero who becomes as much obsessed by greed as he is by the rage he feels against his capitalist class overseers.

“It’s a very different Jude Law than any Jude Law you’ve seen before,” Mr. Macdonald says of his star.

To wit, unlike his Scottish character, Mr. Law is a native Londoner.

Jude is not Scottish, but he’s doing an Aberdeen accent, which is a very specific kind of very hard-to-do accent from the northeast of Scotland,” said Mr. Macdonald, himself a Scot. “And we chose that [area] because it’s such a seafaring city.”

While the film is primarily a thriller — the hybrid of a more traditional submarine picture crossbred with a heist procedural — Mr. Macdonald is keenly aware of the class warfare at work in the subtext between Robinson and the other 99 percenters versus the 1 percent haves.

“It’s the idea that there’s a few people who are controlling your life in one way or another and who don’t give a [expletive] about you,” Mr. Macdonald says, “whether that be the boss of your company or the bank or the government or whoever it is, but this tiny, tiny minority of people who don’t have the interests of the common man at heart.”

In essence, Robinson’s quest for the Soviet gold is as much about sticking it to “the man” as it is about fattening his own pockets.

Jude and his cohorts feel like they’ve been thrown on the scrapheap of life,” Mr. Macdonald said. “The blue-collar man isn’t respected and he has no work. And they want revenge in some way. But that obsession with getting back at the system is, I suppose, also what is [Robinson’s] downfall. That obsession kind of tips over into madness.”

Precedents for the atmosphere of “Black Sea” came not only from the real-life Kursk disaster — wherein the Russian sub’s crew became fatally trapped at the bottom of the Barents Sea in 2000 — but also previous submarine films such as “Das Boot,” “Crimson Tide” and “Run Silent Run Deep.”

“I feel that there hadn’t ever been a submarine movie that’s nonmilitary,” Mr. Macdonald said. “It’s interesting that closed spaces bring out the kind of tensions [that] are part of” the submarine genre, he said.

Submarine films typically rely on the tried-and-true cliches of cracking bulkheads, spinning depth meters and great steel doors sealing in drowning sailors. However, Mr. Macdonald maintains it is that very familiarity with convention that provides the audience with an element of tension despite — or, perhaps because of — such repeated motifs.

“You want to have some of those things there, because that’s the nature, the pleasure of it,” Mr. Macdonald said. “Those references that people sort of expect and want [in a submarine film], but [we] also subvert them.”

In addition to the influences of previous submariner films on “Black Sea,” Mr. Macdonald also points to a little-seen 1977 gangster movie called “Sorcerer,” directed by his hero William Friedkin. Fresh off the monstrous successes of “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist,” Mr. Friedkin, then Hollywood’s most powerful director, fell on his face with “Sorcerer,” which was critically panned and flopped at the box office.

“It was so expensive and it made no money,” Mr. Macdonald says of the earlier film. “It was a huge disaster, as often happens when a director is given too much control.”

Mr. Macdonald once met Mr. Friedkin, an experience he described as “quite thrilling.” The earlier film’s derision and commercial failure aside, Mr. Macdonald showed “Sorcerer” to his cast and crew as preparation for the intense, almost nihilistic atmosphere he wanted for “Black Sea.”

“‘You’re these guys,’” Mr. Macdonald told his bilingual cast. “And there’s a sort of physicality to [both projects]: man and machine.”

When asked for his take on last year’s Scottish independence move, ultimately voted down by Scotland’s electorate, Mr. Macdonald laughed, saying he had differing views on the subject.

“The time of the sovereign nation is kind of over,” he said, a comment that may cause many world leaders to raise eyebrows. “We’re so interlinked globally that I think it’s a sort of retro move for the Scots to break away.

“But on the other hand,” he said, “as we got nearer to the vote itself, I began to sort of change my mind and feel, ‘Oh, maybe .’ It became about Scotland saying we have a different view of how society should be run, a much more, not quite socialist, but left-wing view of things. England is never going to embrace that, but we do.

“The British politicians were so incredibly unimpressive in how they were trying to get the Scots to stay,” Mr. Macdonald said.

He is quick to say the biggest victim in the failed Scottish independence campaign may be trust in politicians throughout all of Britannia.

“Which maybe, I guess, is similar in some ways to what’s going on in America,” he said, “where the statistics of how few people feel their politicians represent them correctly and respect their member of Congress [are so low]. I guess maybe it’s a worldwide phenomenon, not just British, and it’s showing itself in different ways in different countries.”

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