Kevin Macdonald has scored with his latest, the submarine thriller Black Sea. As teased in the Black Sea trailer, it stars Jude Law as an unemployed sub worker who gathers a British and UK crew to go fetch a large amount of Nazi gold that they believe is sitting at the bottom of the titular body of water.
We caught up with Macdonald and discussed what it was about Black Sea that compelled him, and how it fits into his filmography that includes Oscar-nominated work with The Last King of Scotland to riveting documentaries like his work on the Bob Marley doc, simply called Marley.
Macdonald also extols the virtues of the astounding actor that Law has become and how the two bonded over crafting a thriller that goes to depths that few dare to go.
Movie Fanatic: What is it about the sub movie that is one, so appealing to you and two, has a special place in movie history?
Kevin Macdonald: One thing is I think space movies are like sub movies as well, like Interstellar. It’s like a sub movie, but in space. There’s even a moment in Interstellar where one of the guys says something about six inches on the other side of this metal is nothing. That's sort of what it feels like being in a sub as well. There’s just a little bit of metal protecting you from the outside. And in both cases, you’re in places you probably shouldn’t be. Mankind was never designed to be under the water or in space. You can only survive there because of the craft and the unity of the crew. What usually happens is something with the crew and when the unity goes, the mission is in danger. The sub genre is better than the space genre because it’s real. Every day there are thousands of people all around the world who are living under the water -- people are there and actually putting up with that incredible danger every day. When the water bursts in, and that happens, when the depth charges explode, that happens. When you get stuck at the bottom of the sea, what are you going to do?
Movie Fanatic: That happened recently in Russia.
Kevin Macdonald: Yes! That was the inspiration for this movie. All those men were trapped underwater and couldn’t get out and died because of lack of oxygen. I read about that and that was the beginnings of this.
Movie Fanatic: What else is fascinating about Black Sea is there’s this World War II element, with the Nazi gold, with a modern sub story. What was your big drive, other than wanting to make a sub movie, for wanting to make this particular story?
Kevin Macdonald: I like the fact that it is really not a naval story. It’s about a bunch of guys who have been in the Navy, and are ordinary schmoes. They’re driven by this resentment against the system. They have these manual labor skills and now nobody values that. I think a lot of people can relate to that idea. The world has changed. These are analog people in a digital world. They also represent the 99 percent versus the one percent. There’s a sense of, “We’re going to get those people. They’ve screwed us over.” There’s a political element to it too and that was one of the things that made me really like it. It’s not just a thriller, and it operates on that level, but I think there’s another level below that as well. It’s a movie about our times.
Movie Fanatic: There’s also an element of that with the UK and Russian crew. Since the Soviet Union fell, are they our enemy? Are they our ally? And does this crew trust them with all this Nazi gold…
Kevin Macdonald: Exactly, yes! There’s a mistrust there, particularly because all of our characters are in their forties or fifties -- they’re old enough to have been in the Cold War. That is definitely there. But, I definitely like the idea that the Russians are now in the same situation. These Russian ordinary men, they’ve been (expletive) over as well by "the man." I like the idea that there is more in common now with these guys than ever before.
Movie Fanatic: Jude Law continues to amaze me. I remember sitting with him at TIFF for Anna Karenina and I felt he was on an upsurge and I feel with Black Sea, it is still going up.
Kevin Macdonald: That Tolstoy movie marked a real moment for him. He’s playing against type, an unattractive guy, and it was such a mature performance. And then in Dom Hemingway, his performance, he went way out there. I love that about Jude is that he is willing to bite off a lot. He’s not afraid of doing something extreme. You get to a certain age, he’s done the big Hollywood movies, he’s done the matinee idol, but now he wants to be an actor. What he loved about this part was creating this character, and we worked on it so much. That is so much fun for a director as well, and was fun for him.