Black Sea’ is an effective submarine thriller

Jude Law broods as the tortured submarine captain.

Three and a half stars

Black Sea Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn. Directed by Kevin Macdonald. Rated R. Opens Friday.

Even submarine captains are subject to downsizing, as Robinson (Jude Law) learns at the beginning of Black Sea, when he’s laid off by the salvage company for which he’s worked for more than a decade. Angry at what he perceives as corporate indifference, Robinson seizes on a plan to steal a cache of Nazi gold worth millions of dollars hidden in a sunken U-boat at the bottom of the Black Sea. He puts together a motley crew of British and Russian seamen, buys a rusty old submarine with money from a shady investor and heads underwater to retrieve the gold.

Surprisingly, things do not go according to plan, and director Kevin Macdonald (working from a screenplay by playwright Dennis Kelly) ratchets up the tension as Robinson and his men predictably start turning on each other. Black Sea follows plenty of conventions of the heist thriller, but setting nearly all of it within the confines of a cramped, malfunctioning submarine gives those conventions extra tension and urgency. Macdonald directs with no-nonsense economy, and Law takes the same approach to his role as a fed-up working-class bloke. A few gauzy flashbacks layer on the regret a little too thickly, but when it sticks to the increasingly chaotic undersea action, Black Sea is efficient and gripping.

Three more: sub films to watch after Black Sea

Das Boot (1981) The mother of all submarine movies, director Wolfgang Petersen’s epic is rousing and rooted in grim details. The dubbed, edited version received six Oscar nominations, but the uncut, subtitled version is now widely available.

Crimson Tide (1995) It’s not quite The Hunt for Red October, but it’s pulpier and snappier, with two acting powerhouses, book-smart Denzel Washington and street-smart Gene Hackman, going head-to-head.

Below (2002) From Darren Aronofsky’s story to David Twohy’s movie, this is an unusual World War II-set submarine ghost story, with Twohy focused on spooky moments rather than big, dumb clichés. –Jeffrey M. Anderson

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