Black Sea is a heist film with an interesting twist. It features Jude Law as a submarine captain, who is recruited to lead a crew of men in one submarine to the bottom of the Black Sea in order to recover lost Nazi gold from a sunken U-Boat. I have a review for this film HERE, but Black Sea is a solid entry into the heist genre, with an emphasis on how obsession and distrust can overtake logic and reason, even in the most dire of scenarios, when teamwork is most important. The film was directed by Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void, The Last King of Scotland), who I had the pleasure of interviewing. Continue on to learn more about his influences for the story, his favorite submarine movies, the nature of filming with real submarines, and more!
Below is a transcription of the interview that took place, along with the actual audio from the one-on-one discussion I had with director Kevin Macdonald. I touched up the audio to make it as clear as possible, so please enjoy either version presented here!
How are you doing this afternoon?
Kevin Macdonald: I’m good. How are you?
Good. Before we get started, I just wanted to say that I’m a big fan of Marley.
KM: Oh cool
Yes, I am a big fan of that film.
KM: Yeah, it’s a great life story.
And it has been great to see you kind of go back and forth between documentaries and what are essentially thrillers. Do you ever want to go into different kind of genres or different areas?
KM: Yeah, I mean I’ve done things that are not thrillers, I suppose, but yeah…
Well yeah, intense films, I guess I should say.
KM: Yeah, intense films. I’m not sure I could do a comedy.
No Horrible Bosses 3?
KM: [Laughs] Yeah, will there be a Horrible Bosses 3? I hope not. Yeah, I feel like I’m attracted to certain types of movies and what interests me and it is the stories you can go on what interests you and hope that others are interested in too.
So what attracted you to this story?
KM: Well, I read about…well I always loved sub movies. That’s one thing, but I read about the Kursk disaster, which is a famous Russian submarine disaster that happened about 10 years ago, where there was an explosion on the sub and a lot of people died immediately, but a bunch of people ended up on the bottom of the ocean in this part of the sub, where the was still oxygen and they slowly asphyxiated, because they were so deep and the rescuers couldn’t get to them. And I remember at the time that that has got to be the worst way to go that I could possibly imagine, but maybe there is a movie in there. So I was thinking who are these characters, who could end up on the bottom of the ocean in a sub; and if they are not Navy people, because it is better if they are not Navy people, because it would be more original, y’know, because most sub movies are usually all about Navy guys and warfare, so it’s like what happens when it’s not, what if…
What if it’s like blue-collar guys…
KM: Yeah, blue-collar guys, they’re civilians, they know about subs, they used to be in the Navy, and that’s how the story started to develop. And then I got it to Dennis Kelly, who is the writer, and he wrote the script.
Before I read the press notes, I sensed in Jude Law’s character that was a lot like Bogart’s character in The Treasure of Sierra Madre, which is one of my favorite films.
Yeah, so I picked up on that and I picked up on Sorcerer, which I had just seen and is a remake of Wages of Fear.
KM: Yes, and those are like the two biggest influences on the movies.
Exactly, so I read the notes and was like, “well here we are, this is exactly what I was thinking.” Those are both movies about obsession and…
KM: A little bit of Captain Ahab in there as well…
Yeah, like it is more than just about getting the gold. It is about having this drive to do something.
KM: Yeah, and I think there is sort of an element to these characters that they want to get their revenge on the system. They feel that the system has screwed them over; that the bankers that rule the world have basically shat them out and they want to fight back. And it is about as much to them about that, that sort of revenge, as it is about actually getting the gold. They probably don’t even know what to do with the gold when they got it, but it is gonna make them be somebody, y’know, “I’m a success now, got all this money,” that sort of a thing.
What submarine movies are you a fan of?
KM: Well the three that I think are really the best and all very different, starting with the latest one is Crimson Tide, which I think is Tony Scott’s best movie and is totally different from Black Sea in aesthetic and approach, as it is totally Hollywood and has the Naval thing, but it also has the idea that there is a disunity amongst the crew that causes the problems; there is the obsession of someone that is bordering into madness. Some of those same ideas are in there. I just think it is a great movie. Exciting. It uses the idea of being in a sub and underwater really well.
Then going back into the 80s, there is obviously Das Boot, which is still the best sub movie of them all, probably. It certainly is one of the naturalistic ones, makes you feel like you are there, the detail is so fascinating. It’s the sort of anthropological study of what it would be like to be a submariner during the second World War.
Then, earlier still, you have something that must be like 1958-59, is a movie called Run Silent, Run Deep, which is Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster, which, again, is a movie about obsession and it is interesting that there is a sort of parallel with Clark Gable, matinee idol and Jude Law, matinee idol, but doing something very different and moving into a darker terrain, and that’s what Jude is sort of doing in this movie. But also that that character is a kind of Captain Ahab type character, he’s this sort of character that is obsessed with destroying this Japanese Naval vessel.
Now you’ve made your submarine movie. Was there any trepidation as far as how to make a movie aboard a sub setting?
KM: No, just excitement. It’s really exciting to make…you know it’s got its challenges it’s hard to make and there’s no space, and it’s very hard to move around and all this…
And you used a real sub…
KM: Yes, we used a real sub for a couple of weeks, which, well just because we found this real 1960s Russian diesel sub, which is so incredible inside. It feels like the set for the original Alien movie or something, it’s just an incredible environment. And I felt there was no way we could recreate that, it would cost far too much, so what we did, we used the real sub for like various parts; for like shooting in the engine room, the forward torpedo room, which is where they leave. So it’s all the real sub. And then the control room and the other engine room, they’re all on our set, and then the cabins and that is all set.
In approaching how to film within a submarine and have that kind of setting, did you seek out any advice on how others have worked this way?
KM: Yeah, we had a couple of different sub advisors, who worked with the crew, a couple ex-Navy guys, who have been on subs for some time. One of them actually works for the sub museum that is located in the south of England and they came in and talked. We had about a week of rehearsals and they talked to the actors about what to do in a sub and “this is how a sub works,” and “your job is to be the navigator,” and they’d give each of them some sort of tutorial about what they would do, depending on what their job was meant to be. So that was great.
Last question, what’s next?
KM: I’ve got a variety of things. I’m doing a documentary, partly in China. That’s going on and then narrative-wise, I got a few different things, but none of them are happening yet, so I don’t quite know.
Well, I certainly look forward to both sides, I really enjoy your documentaries like Touching the Void.
KM: Well this film’s got a few similarities to Touching the Void in the sense of nature somehow being malevolent. [Laughs]
Great, well thank you very much!
KM: Thank you very much!