After the back-to-back box-office failures of Batman and Robin (1997) and 8MM (1999), filmmaker Joel Schumacher retreated to a lower-budget, more personal style of project by writing and directing this character-driven comedy-drama. Schumacher uses a heavy hand with his plot, cramming in cliches such as a drug deal gone sour and a supporting cast of New York eccentrics that are straight out of central casting. However, the substance of his tale is in the relationship that develops between stroke victim Walt (Robert De Niro) and drag queen Rusty (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and it's here that the director's talent shines once again. Certainly, the delightful character interaction that forms the basis of Flawless (1999) can be attributed in great part to a pair of uniquely gifted performers. Hoffman, all gentleness and grace, finds the fractured soul inside an outrageous, flamboyant bon vivant, eschewing the hysteria with which so many other modern actors would have played the part. Opposite him, De Niro employs his great mechanical skill to convincingly mimic the mannerisms of the semi-paralyzed, even finding humor there, which is a bold and courageous choice. But credit must be given to Schumacher for crafting the scenario, choosing his leads well, and letting them shine instead of overwhelming them with the gloss and visual wizardry of his most recent films. Despite periodic forays into hand-wringing, over-the-top melodrama, Flawless is a promising and welcome return to substance for a filmmaker who appears to be back on track.