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Film / Black Sea

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Black Sea is a 2014 disaster thriller film directed by Kevin Macdonald, written by Dennis Kelly, and starring Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, and Scoot McNairy.

Captain Robinson (Law) is an experienced veteran of under-sea salvage, having lost his wife and son to divorce thanks to his devotion to the time-consuming job... only to be laid off due to his job being made redundant. With nothing but a piddling severance check and a future of menial fast-food jobs, Robinson gets a tip from a similarly laid-off colleague about an opportunity to claim a vast fortune that lays forgotten in the eponymous Black Sea.

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A massive sum of gold, meant to be a loan from the Russians to Nazi Germany to defuse a potential war between the two nations in the 1940s, was loaded into a U-boat which never arrived at its destination, coming to rest just off the coast of Georgia. The few who know about it are waiting out the results of the Russo-Georgian war before they attempt to salvage it, leaving Robinson an opportunity to sneak in and grab it first. Robinson secures a submarine and brings in a crew of British and Russian men to conduct a salvage operation.

The crew, which includes the unstable but prodigiously talented diver Fraser (Mendelsohn), the representative of expedition backer Lewis, who very much wants nothing to do with being on the submarine Daniels (McNairy), and eighteen-year old, last moment replacement Tobin, immediately struggle to work together for an assortment of reasons, and the highly lucrative job quickly runs into almost every problem imaginable. Betrayal, paranoia, and greed infects virtually everyone, as the Black Sea threatens to bury the crew just as it did the gold they seek.

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Released in late 2014 in the UK and early 2015 in the USA, Black Sea was a small release, grossing only about 1.6 million dollars at the box office despite good reviews and reception.

Black Sea contains examples of:

  • Artistic License – Biology: The escape suits that allow the thin sliver of light in on an otherwise full-on downer ending wouldn't have worked. While Robinson correctly tells Tobin to make sure to exhale as he rises so his lungs don't pop, it wouldn't matter with the submarine already at a depth of 350 meters below the surface. The suits are only effective from a maximum depth of about half that, and both Tobin and Morozov should have been crushed by the pressure instead of floating to the surface.
    • The remains of the crew inside the sunken U-Boat are skeletal, but with there being no oxygen to decompose the bodies, they should in fact have been mummified.
  • Artistic License – Physics: The sunken U-Boat has the skeletal remains of crew members inside, some of them chained up. Peters says that the crew turned to cannibalism. In reality, the submarine would have run out of oxygen well before any of the crew even considered trying to eat each other.
  • Artistic License – Ships: Fraser, Tobin and Peters have no trouble getting inside the sunken U-Boat. In reality, getting inside the submarine from the outside is impossible without assistance from the inside.
  • Ax-Crazy: Fraser is an incredible diver, but is known to be rather mentally unstable and prone to violence. Unsurprisingly, ends up being the spark that starts the entire mission on the road to failure, when he escalates a verbal argument into a physical one by stabbing Blackie in the heart. Blackie's dying body falls on some diesel, knocking it into the engine, causing a massive explosion that kills as least two crewmen and destroys the drive shaft, as well as causing the Russian half of the crew to stop co-operating with the Brits.
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    • Near the end, at the goading of Daniels, uses a wrench to beat Zaytsev's brains in, as the submarine absolutely must have Zaytsev running the engine to effectively sail, and Daniels wants Robinson to have to surface instead of attempting a risky journey through a thin canyon.
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You: Multiple times.
    • The Russian half of the crew, and possibly some of the British half, want to kill Fraser after his unnecessary stabbing of Blackie caused a deadly explosion and likely doomed the mission to failure, but they absolutely have to have the manpower if they have any hope of getting out alive, especially as they need the drive shaft from the U-boat, and Fraser is by far the best diver.
    • Daniels eventually fesses up to his part in Agora's plan to screw the crew out of their share and put them all in prison, and virtually everyone wants him dead, but the more rational crewmen realize that, with the losses they've already sustained, they can not afford to lose another man if they hope to escape with the gold and their freedom.
    • By the end, the gold-obsessed Robinson is waving a gun around at the crew members who want to abandon the gold, surface, and take their chances with the navy above, threatening to shoot Daniels and Fraser when they refuse to continue assisting to drive the sub. Of course, the threat feels rather empty, when killing any of the remaining men will make any sort of movement, including surfacing, impossible, and thus dooming everyone to a watery death.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Fraser stabbing Blackie in the heart with his knife *should* have ended any chance of the mission succeeding and likely doomed everyone to death, even without the resulting explosion killing two crew members and damaging the submarine. Blackie was the only one translating Russian to English and vice versa for the crew, allowing the crew to function, and piloting the submarine will be impossible without the two sides working together. The only reason why the rest of the movie can even happen is that one of the Russians ends up being able to speak English, having simply chosen up to that point to not say anything.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Daniels. Everything about the salvage mission scenario was a ploy by Robinson's former employer, Agora, that would allow them to take all the lost gold for themselves without having to do the actual salvage, thus avoiding the difficulty of doing such a mission in a contested war zone. Robinson and his crew would be arrested, scapegoated for the whole thing, with Agora no longer employing Robinson and thus not being blamed for it. Daniels, representing Agora in this endeavor, paid Kurston thirty thousand dollars to tell Robinson about the gold, had an unwitting actor pretend to be a wealthy backer who would be providing funds for the submarine, and even went on the trip to make sure things went according to plan.
  • The Cynic: Fraser seems to be the one person not starstruck by the promise of the gold reward waiting for them in the U-Boat. He openly complains about the Russians getting the same share as the British crewmen when, according to him, the same amount of gold will go ten times further in the poor countries that the Russians hail from. Also grouses that two million dollars, while sounding like a lot, isn't as much as you might think. And he immediately assumes that the Russians are trying to get Tobin to commit suicide by bullying him, to reduce the number of total shares.
  • Dirty Coward: Daniels. He spends most of the film begging Robinson to just ditch the whole enterprise and go to the surface asap. He is not incorrect in thinking things have become way too dangerous, but he also manages to harass Frasier into killing someone and allows two people to drown in a flooding compartment.
  • Downer Ending: The submarine sinks to the bottom of the Black Sea. Ten of the twelve crew members are dead, along with Daniels (though audiences might not mind that so much), and nearly all of the two hundred million dollars in gold will be scattered at a much deeper depth, with recovery nigh-impossible even if someone knows it's still down there. The only taste of bittersweet we get is the two survivors, Tobin and Morozov, getting the opportunity to escape with their lives and a few million in gold.
  • Fatal Family Photo:
    • Robinson keeps a photograph of his twelve-year old son, who he is estranged from after divorcing his wife, occasionally lamenting that he can't be there for his boy. Ends up being the final casualty, resigning himself to death on the sinking submarine, sending the photograph up to the surface in an emergency suit along with some gold.
    • Subverted with Tobin. He has a picture of an ultrasound on his phone, representing the child that he'll soon be responsible for. Robinson encourages him to make sure he's there for his child after he's back on land. Tobin ends up being one of the two survivors, and even gets a seven-figure gold score to assist in the future caring of the child.
  • For Want of a Nail: In the backstory. Nazi Germany is running out of funds in 1941, and threatens to attack the Soviets unless they give the Third Reich a loan in the form of two tons of gold. The Soviets comply, but Germany attacks anyway after the submarine full of gold never arrives. A conflict spanning four years and resulting in twenty million deaths happened because a submarine sunk before reaching its destination.
  • Gold Fever: Although Robinson was always keen on obtaining the golden treasure as a way to stick it to his former employers and finally do something to enrich himself and not the people he's working for, once they actually get the gold out of the wrecked U-Boat, Robinson becomes especially unstable and obsessed with finding a way out with the treasure. He demands that the crew take on extreme risk after extreme risk, even demanding impossible tasks, earning the ire of every other crewman who just want to get out with their lives by the end, even if they end up in prison. He even hid the existence of some emergency escape suits from the crew, as he did not want them to think that there was any other way off the submarine other than to complete the mission. Realizes what a monster he had become by the end, sacrificing himself to get Tobin and Morozov to the surface, as well as sending up a couple million in gold in the suit meant for him, perishing in the leaking submarine.
  • Greed: Whether it's Fraser thinking that the British crewmen should get a much larger slice of the pie than the Russians, two crew members fighting over a thirty thousand pound lottery ticket, or Robinson willing to risk the life of everyone to get out with the gold, greed is everywhere in the film.
  • Heel Realization: Robinson spends the whole movie obsessed with obtaining the gold at any cost, no matter how absurd the risk becomes, ultimately being the impetus for every character death after Peters. After almost the entire submarine is full of water and there's no hope of recovery, reveals that he hid some escape suits on board but told nobody so everyone would think there was no way out other than to complete the mission. Morozov screams that Robinson is worse than any of the corporate snakes who put them out of jobs or conspired to take all the salvaged gold. Robinson seems to agree, and uses his last moments to save Tobin and Morozov, as well as sending them a couple million dollars of gold.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: With the submarine sinking and quickly taking on water, the remaining surviving crew has to move towards the back of the sub, sealing doors up along the way, to hold back the water as much as possible and buy time for an emergency escape. Daniels seals one of the doors with crew members still in one of the flooding compartments, dooming them to drown. The very next door Daniels seals off gets a piece of his clothing snagged, leaving him stuck as the compartment fills, and Morozov refuses to help him, sealing him off to drown helplessly just one compartment before the torpedo room.
  • Married to the Job: Captain Robinson was married long enough to have a son, before his wife finally got tired of never seeing him due to his demanding job doing underwater salvage for Agora. Which makes Agora casting him aside due to redundancy all the worse, as he now doesn't have anything else in his life to live for.
  • Naïve Newcomer: Tobin has no knowledge of subs, or most of anything, really. The rest of the crew consider him annoying as a result, and the Russians give him a hazing joke at one point (asking him to clean the sub's windows... it has none). Frasier gets angry about this... of course, he already is paranoid about the Russians and this just adds fuel to the fire.
  • Nature Abhors a Virgin: The Russians want no part of the last-second replacement Tobin, as they believe having a virgin aboard the submarine is bad luck. They refuse to work with him and generally mistreat him whenever possible. Turns out that the Russians simply decided he was a virgin by looking at him and making an assumption, as Tobin is later shown to have impregnated a woman.
  • Nazi Gold: Almost. The two tons of bullion that the crew is pursuing was sent to the Nazis, but never arrived in Germany.
  • Never Win the Lottery: One of the crewmen purchases a winning lottery ticket, discovering that his numbers came up via the onboard radio, and gets into a dispute with a Russian over whether or not he should split the thirty thousand pounds with the person he was with when he bought the ticket. Robinson only cares about the fact that the crewman used the radio, which could have revealed their presence to the Russian navy, and burns the winning lottery ticket after smashing the radio. Softened a bit by the fact that the crewman, like everyone else aboard, was at this point fully expecting to make at least two million dollars on the mission, making the lottery winnings forgettable by comparison.
  • New Meat: The crew is made up entirely of experienced, expert seamen who have years of experience aboard submarines (outside of the uninvolved Daniels)... and Tobin, an eighteen-year old there only by being in the right place at the right time, having been the delivery boy for the news of Kurston's suicide and being present when Robinson desperately needed one more man. Though he initially is good only for being the butt of jokes and target of abuse, as well as making simple mistakes, he ends up being crucial to the mission by participating in the swim to the U-boat thanks to his SCUBA experience.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Part of the problem that the submarine crew runs into is that half the crew is British and the other half is Russian (necessary as the sub they are salvaging was Russian), with only one of the Russians being able to speak English. Halfway through the movie, Morozov reveals he can speak English and simply wasn't interested in revealing it until he had to.
  • Psycho Party Member: Fraser, who is mentioned from the get-go to be a "psychopath" and shortly after is said to have been coming in and out of jail for some time now; but he still is recruited for the recovery mission/heist at the bottom of the eponymous Russian ocean because his capacity as a salvage diver makes him necessary ("he's half-fish"). The two times the crew's sub sinks and nearly kills everybody is because he loses his head and kills another member.
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