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Law’s strong acting can’t whip up flat ‘Black Sea’

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    Jude Law: He’s evolving from eye candy to virtuoso actor
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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") …

‘BLACK SEA’
Rated:
R
**
Opens Friday at Ward Stadium 16

Now in "Black Sea," we find him in the role of 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 to be sure it’s really him.

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.

Most of what follows takes place underneath the sea, in an old World War II-era submarine, but no, this is not "Das Boot." It’s more like "Das Boring." Director Kevin Macdonald and screenwriter Dennis Kelly try to engage our attention by exploring the Brit-Russian dynamic and by having the men talk about their personal lives. But in truth, the boat could blow up, and no one in the audience would care, so long as Jude Law survived and got his loot.

Robinson is the film’s richest creation. He is so full of anger and disappointment, so burdened by the kinds of humiliations that (let’s face it) only money can assuage, that watching Law we feel what he’s feeling and share in this man’s lust for something grand and splendid in life. He’s earned it. Hey, we’ve all earned it.

But one strong character isn’t enough, at least not in an ensemble piece and not when that character is surrounded by walking cliches. There’s the young guy with his whole life ahead, so you’re supposed to care whether he gets killed, and then there are the Russians, who are rendered virtually indistinguishable.

"Black Sea" gets better as it goes along. The first half hour is deadly slow, but as the perils mount, a certain momentum takes hold, though never quite enough to justify taking up two hours in your life.

Review by Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

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