BLACK SEA REVIEW

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Like the submarine, it’s dark, too long and rusty in all the wrong places.

I didn’t want the cast to walk the plank. Just the writer.

Jude Law was fantastic. I’ve always rated him as an actor. He plays the gruffly Scot Captain Robinson well. His accent was very good and he delivers enough charisma to hold his own against a talented cast of misfits.

So what’s it about? In order to make good with his former employers, a submarine captain (Law) takes a job with a shadowy backer to search the depths of the Black Sea for a submarine rumoured to be loaded with gold.

The running length was far too long. It’s gritty, at times claustrophobic and suspenseful but to be honest if it wasn’t for Law and Mendelsohn, I fear this film would have sunk faster than its naval counterpart.

The opening was painfully slow. Law did his best to keep things watchable and we feel for his character after being made redundant.

However, a plan is already in motion. A dangerous heist that could pay out big. 82 million to each participant.

Yes, that’s right. Nazi gold just sitting in a shipwreck. A shipwreck that happens to lie in the darkest, deepest regions of the ocean. Easy.

The set up was terrible. Forcing relationships between ship mates to make them more relatable.

The cliched exchanges between Konstantin Khabenskiy (Night Watch), Daniel Ryan (Mount Pleasant) and Law were so boring and unnecessary.

It felt hammy and drawn out. Writer Dennis Kelly tried to pump some life into the characters but it just didn’t work.

If Daniel Ryan’s character wasn’t so pessimistic and had that “I don’t think I can do this” expression smacked all over his face, I might have been surprised that he would turn out not to be in the rest of the film.

Tobias Menzies (Game of Thrones) had the easiest job going as the “shadowy businessman”. I mean, come on. Look at him. He’s look like a shady politician. Throw in a scowl and he’s done.

Five minutes of empty threats and predictable guff about failing to deliver and that’s goodbye from him.

Instead, we get a wimpering Scoot McNairy (Monsters). Don’t get me wrong, he plays it well. He was just irritating. Forced by Mr Shady (no, not Eminem) to protect his investment and join the crew.

Jodie Whittaker (Broadchurch) was reduced to nothing more than featuring in some dreary dream sequences or being stalked by Law. Nothing was really made of their relationship at all. A missed opportunity that her character just as redundant as her husband.

Once they got into the sub, things got a little more interesting. Just.

Director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) captured the claustrophobic setting of the submarine perfectly.

Robinson’s runts featured the likes of David Threlfall (Shameless), Michael Smiley (He will always be Tyres from Spaced) and the legendary Ben Mendelsohn (Starred Up).

The inevitable friction already brewing between the crew before they even descended.

Mendelsohn was superb as the volatile Fraser. The perfect catalyst to get things going. A ticking time bomb.

The predictable bust up looming in the cards still managed to surprise me.

I expected a little punch up BUT what happened instead was the much needed oomph I was craving for.

And for another 20 minutes or so, I got into the film.

Unfortunately the film has only really has a few moments of brilliance. The sequence in which they are evading other submarines and transporting the gold was suspenseful enough. It was tense, and watchable.

Wondering whom the ocean would take next into the dark abyss.

BUT what didn’t help was that the murky darkness was surprisingly too dark to see anything. If not for Law’s commentary, I wouldn’t have had a clue what they were doing.

Grigoriy Dobrygin (A Most Wanted Man) was highly unmemorable. I kept hoping he would do something. Bar the final three minutes, I would have said he was completely useless. Silently stewing in the background while fondling his beard.

Bobby Schofield didn’t do too a bad job as he took his first proper feature role as the young outcast Tobin.

His introduction helped provide a little more depth to the crew and eased up this incredibly droll and all too serious affair.

The crew banter was quite good. A naive Tobin standing with a squeegee and bucket asking, “Where are the windows?”.

However, the whole father/son vibe between him and Robinson’s Law was a little cheesy. BUT you just about routed for them.

The pace and story just didn’t justify the 114 minute running time. Not enough going on.

It didn’t help that the explosive finale got things going again and then just ended. Abruptly and predictably.

Shame.

It wasn’t all bad but it wasn’t that great either.

2/5

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A MOST WANTED MAN REVIEW

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Philip Seymour Hoffman was definitely a most wanted man for this drab moody political thriller. A showcase and a reminder of the loss of a talented actor. The film will certainly not soil’s Hoffman’s prestigious reputation. But Anton Corbijn on the other hand . . . not so much.

A drawn out and needlessly complicated thriller that proves to be oh so simple and tedious that the 127 minute length just doesn’t justify itself or keep you engaged. It was always going to be tough to do a spy film these days, especially after nine series of Spooks, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Homeland.

The opening score and the subtle title sequence was nostalgic of the 70s political thrillers. A good sign. The moody overtone captured perfectly against the Hamburg backdrop by the cinematography of Benoit Delhomme. The story was typical John le Carre. Spies lurking in the shadows. The inevitable waiting game as a mystery man washes up on the banks of Hamburg after evading capture from Russia. Is he a terrorist? A man sneaking refuge from a torturous nation? Or a distraction for a bigger play?

The inevitable chess game as each agency fishes information out one another waiting to see who makes the first blunder or bluff revealing their intentions. Each move carefully analysed and discussed. Cryptic references and stories that are saying something without saying something. Grigoriy Dobrygin plays the mysterious Issa very well and will certainly be one to watch. However, the main scene stealer was (and was always going to be) Mr Hoffman. The opening half hour was PSH chain smoking and walking a lot of steps. It was a waiting game and believe me you felt like you were.

Hoffman is a fantastic presence along with a flawless accent. He doesn’t break out of his German twang once. The same cannot be said for Rachel McAdams who certainly gives it a punt but dips in and out. Not everybody can do it. Willem Dafoe was surprisingly good but his character was wasted as the film churned along.

The mystery soon borders on pretentious and just plain dull. Maybe Andrew Bovell and Anton Corbijn should have taken some lessons from The Lives of Others. Slow burning but tense, intriguing, hypnotic with a nail biting finale. This was just slow. Corbijn had impressed with his previous efforts: Control and, more importantly, The American. Suspenseful, tense and brilliantly shot. I understand it was adapted from Le Carre. But even some of his weaker and less renowned works still had some intrigue. The hour marker allowed Hoffman to shine and show what we will miss from him and that is his acting prowess. Delivering lines with tenacity and conviction. Pumping some life into this lead balloon.

The sense of paranoia and fear against the post 9/11 backdrop certainly provided a suitable catalyst. Robin Wright playing the American envoy who gate crashes the party was good. Sweet and supportive in one second, cruel and commanding the next. Typical. Some will smile. The fractious tension between the Americans and Germans is set up perfectly in the relationship between her and Hoffman. The film finally appears to be getting somewhere, setting things up for a tense finale, only for it . . .  to fizzle away abysmally, becoming a lazy statement that is all so predictable. Commentary that has been made time and time again.

A look into the inner working of politics between the agencies was interesting if void of suspense. PSH didn’t look particularly well. He looked rough. I mean he never was the epitome of physical health but it certainly puts an air of darkness around the film, especially knowing that this was his last film to grace the silver screen. Daniel Bruhl was completely wasted in the role. A nothingy supporting role, a mere cameo that didn’t do him any justice, especially after the prolific year he has had appearing in Rush and The Fifth Estate. Anyone could have played him.

It is a good a send off as we will get for the man. The problem with these slow burning poker games, I’ve seen them done so much better. I have patience for pace if the characters are interesting enough to keep me peaked. We were watching one man as Hoffman spurned cryptic babble to a number of agencies trying to enforce their own method of politics in the veil of “counter terrorism”. Homeland proved that watching one man could be interesting but here’s the thing the man actually did something. Not hang around in a bedsit praying, whining and trying to pull a Mean Girl. (Okay, Homeland did do that too).

Dull, drawn out and desperate. For every little move, a nightclub chase here, it was crushed with one chess piece, being endless dialogue and conversation that went no where. It certainly captured the look and had a prolific star that will certainly be missed but had to little in terms of suspense and intrigue for me.

2.5/5