Love the Hard Way Movie Review

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That shiny Best Actor Oscar notwithstanding, the jury's still out on Adrien Brody's capabilities as an actor. Setting aside The Pianist, what do we have? A solid but small role in Summer of Sam as an anxious '70s punk. A solid but small role in The Thin Red Line as an anxious World War II soldier. A solid but small role in Liberty Heights as an anxious Baltimore Jew. And a journeyman job in his lead in Bread and Roses, where he played an anxious union organizer. All nice enough work, and Lord knows we need somebody to play those anxious roles now that Woody Allen and Bob Balaban are getting on in years. But as an actor, he deserves no more praise than any other young actor who's landed a few good parts -- Brendan Fraser, say, or Philip Seymour Hoffman. Brody is brilliant at playing the wounded man, and in the ear of burly mushmouths like Vin Diesel, that's daring. But it's not necessarily a great acting career.

Love the Hard Way isn't going to settle the matter. As Jack Grace, he's a conflicted, embittered, and, yes, anxious young man who commits small-time crimes in New York City hotel rooms. He and his partner Charlie (Jon Seda) use strippers and acting student to play prostitutes; dressed as cops, Jack and Charlie collar the johns and loot their wallets. It's a cheap life he's got, and Brody is sharp enough to play Jack as a guy who knows it. When he slips on his snazzy snakeskin jacket, he looks like he's trying too hard, and when he says he doesn't care for books or intellectuals, he's lying. His private office - which happens to be a pallet in a storage space - serves as his sanctuary, where he works on novelizing his own life and reading the works of Charles Bukowski and Ezra Pound, first editions of which he buys from a fence.

In short, he's the perfect combination of smarts and self-destruction, traits that draw him to Claire (Charlotte Ayanna), a pretty and naïve Columbia University undergrad. Similarly conflicted, she shuttles between good-girl charm (she's a straight-A student) and a need to break free and wreck herself for a while. The scenes showing them fall for one another have some grace and humor and eroticism, but not much in the way of chemistry. Director Peter Suhr repeatedly gives us sex scenes, but he has a hard time convincing us of the love part.

Blame the script, which fails to fill out exactly how conflicted these characters are. Despite some offhanded comments about junkie parents, Jack has no past and nothing that signifies why he is or isn't capable of love. And though it's not hard to find Ivy League girls who find it kicky to go slumming for a while, Claire seems all too willing to sacrifice whole pieces of herself for a go-nowhere schlub like Jack. All we get is some deep need in her for self-destruction. When her roommate tells her that Jack's going straight to hell, Claire responds, "maybe I want him to take me with him." That melodrama is bad enough, but the extent to which she tries to destroy herself in the film is simply unbelievable. Chemistry is entirely out the window in the film's third act, giving way to the plodding business of moving the plot forward.

But Brody and Ayanna do their best with this; better, in fact, than Love the Hard Way deserves. Face-to-face in restaurants and cars and coffee shops, they're clearly having fun, even if they don't always seems sure how to act around one another. And the smaller roles in Love the Hard Way give the film a lift: Pam Grier is excellent in her scenes as a vice cop, and Jon Seda's role as Charlie is yet more proof he needs bigger roles. The tough-but-tender approach he sharpened in his role on Homicide: Life on the Street serves him well here. He infuses his lines with acidic humor, which perfectly fits the awful leisure suits the role forces him to wear (in one scene he looks not so much dressed as upholstered). A few more small but solid roles like this and he'll be Oscar timber. Worked for Adrien Brody.

Shut yo mouth!

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Love the Hard Way Rating

" OK "

Rating: NR, 2003

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