'Black Sea' shows Jude Law's transformation.

AuthorLaSalle, Mick

Byline: Mick LaSalle

'Black Sea'

A Focus Features Film

Rating: R for language throughout, some graphic images and violence

Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

While the transformation of Matthew McConaughey from rom-com joke to serious actor got lots of attention a few years ago, the ongoing transformation of Jude Law from highbrow eye candy to virtuoso character actor has largely escaped notice. But in movie after movie, Law keeps showing us new sides -- a nervous wreck ("Side Effects''), an officious politician ("Anna Karenina''), a wacky Internet personality ("Contagion''), a Cockney safecracker ("Dom Hemingway'') ...

Now, in "Black Sea,'' we find him in the sort of role Sean Connery might have played in the 1970s, a working-class Scottish tough guy. It's nothing like anything he has ever played, and though he looks more or less as he usually does, there's such an essence change about him that it might take a second or two to be sure it's really him. Law often looks angry and frazzled on screen. This time he looks angry and sure of himself.

He's terrific, and he's not the only good thing about "Black Sea,'' and yet the movie just misses. Actually, it most definitely misses, but the reasons are elusive. It's a well-acted submarine drama, about desperate men in search of millions in treasure, and yet the overall effect is bland. If given a choice, we might all wish these fellows well in their quest. But taking a passionate interest in their success or failure is a whole other matter.

Law plays Robinson, who has worked aboard ships his whole life. When he gets fired from his job after almost 30 years at sea, he's angry -- angry enough to jump at the chance of easy money. Apparently in 1940, a German submarine went down to the bottom of the Black Sea carrying millions in gold bullion. When he finds out roughly where it is, he gets financial backing, puts together a crew of Brits and Russians and sets out to retrieve it.

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