Love the Hard Way

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LOVE THE HARD WAY: Adrien Brody Needs Roman Polanski and a Good Editor.

Jun 17, 2003 (Updated Jun 19, 2003)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Adrien Brody, Charlotte Ayanna, Jon Seda. Good location shooting.

Cons:The script, the plot, the direction, the editing.

The Bottom Line: Shot in 2001, LOVE THE HARD WAY, European transplant of a Chinese urban story to New York, should not be held against Adrien Brody. May boost Charlotte Ayanna's career.


In the labyrinthine ways of indie-film making, two years ago a German director (Peter Sehr, KASPER HAUSER, 1993) sat down with his French screenwriting partner, Marie Noelle (OBSESSION, 1997), to adapt a Wang Shuo novel about the criminal underbelly of Bejing. Why not move the action to New York City? they asked themselves. And so they did. They came to the United States, hired some ethnic types, and made their movie. One of the actors, little known at the time, was Adrien Brody.

Bingo! Suddenly, Kino is amenable to releasing LOVE THE HARD WAY in the United States.

The 1992 Academy Award Winner plays Jack Grace, a street veteran street punk from the South Bronx, who with his sidekick, Charlie (Jon Seda), and a couple of pseudo-prostitutes, run a scam, a variation on "The Old Buffalo Game," in an uptown hotel. A confederate, Jeff (August Diehl), a desk clerk at the hotel, pimps the girls into the suites of visiting foreign businessmen. Then, at a strategic moment, Jack and Charlie don NYC Police Department uniforms, burst into the rooms -- video cameras and pistols at the ready -- to shake down the shook-up foreigners.

Jack is a flamboyant bum, given to womanizing and wearing a long, slightly distressed python-skin jacket. At once a sleazy thug, a postmodern hipster and a sensitive intellectual, he lives with his gang in an untidy loft. When he is not planning and exercising his "business" options, he locks himself away in a storage locker to write truly dreadful, self-indulgent prose, presumably notes for his Great American Novel. Or perhaps, a book of scrungy, interrelated short stories, for he keeps a volume of popular cult writer Charles Bukowski (a better-known counterpart of the China-California based Wang Shuo) on his desk. For recreation, he may dicker with a rare book dealer for a first edition of Dostoyevsky, read a little Ezra Pound, or hang out at art movie houses.

After taking in a deep foreign film one day, Jack notices the breath-stopping, virginal beauty of Claire (Charlotte Ayanna), who is working at the cashier-candy counter to pay her college expenses. Claiming to have slept with at least 200 women (and looking it), he makes a rather abrupt approach for a date. He'll meet her at the Staten Island Ferry terminal the next day at five o'clock. Four-point Columbia biology student, Claire, with her sensual latina face and innocently piercing blue eyes, looks up at him with the amused, noncommittal power of a young woman in the flower of her beauty.

Jack goes into his commercial carrel to monkishly record this experience for posterity, before going off to lead his gang in robbing another group of hapless visitors. Surprisingly, Claire turns up the next day at the Ferry Terminal, and he castigates her for being late. Dismissing the warnings of her schoolchum, Debbie (Katherin Moenning) -- "Maybe I want him to take me [to hell] with him" -- Claire is soon, completely in lust and love, thrashing around in Jack's bed up at the scuzzy loft.

Claire will get her wish because, with a mixture of feral satiety and noble desire protect her from the rotten side of his life, Jack at first dumps her by absenting himself, then castigates her with cruel invective, and finally has her physically removed from his premises (by faithful Charlie).

Claire, in her grief, sets out to prove that she can be as debased as, she imagines, he might want her to be.

LOVE THE HARD WAY is "a pretty bad movie" (as my old Chicago friend, Sheldon Wolf, liked to say). Wang Shuo's novel is intended to be a punk political satire on "classless" Chinese city life, designed to provoke the Communist Old Guard, and so it is not much help as matrix for an American gangster romance. In the realized movie, Jack's character, in spite of the intense concentration of Guy Dufaux's cameras on Adrien Brody's every twitch, comes over as either a complete writers fantasy, or at least an unredeemable fraud. Granting that, as Yeats observed, beautiful women sometimes "take a crazy salad with their meat," why the intelligent, ambitious Claire would throw herself away on such a callow, trite kind of jerk, no matter his (well-concealed) literary pretensions, is a riddle known almost exclusively to the history of motion pictures.

[The ending is enough to make one tear either eyes or brains out.]

The basic plot premise makes little sense either. Here we have the emaciated Jack, in his outrageous jacket, and Charlie (almost over-dressed), pretending not to call attention to themselves, as they hang around the same upscale hotel lobby, week upon week, waiting for the high sign from Jeff at the reservation desk to go into their MO. After a while, don't you think that at maybe one victim would complain? that someone would notice their routine? The wonder is not that Vice Detective Linda Fox (Pam Grier) catches on, but that it takes her so godawful long to do so.

Editor Christean Nauheimer bears considerable responsibility for holding takes much longer than necessary, especially closeups of Brody's expressive face. And, combined with Sehr's atrocious direction at times, the Editor ruins a couple of scenes which might have saved the strength of the movie: its performances. For instance, when Claire breaks down in keening rage, refusing to leave Jack's loft after finding him in bed with one of "the girls," her struggle against Charlie wrestling her away is undercut by poor camera placement and shot selection.

[LOVE THE HARD WAY is 104 minutes, but it does seem quite a bit longer.]

Too bad for the actors because Brody is a natural performer, a young Humphrey Bogart (I've called him), whose every small gesture is expressive. Jon Seda, so good in the TV Series Homicide: Life on the Streets, gives excellent support, with his lively, cocky manner, and Puerto Rican good looks. August Diehl, a German actor, brings a decorous oily and unclean quality to his Jeff.

Most of all, if anyone should profit from LOVE THE HARD WAY, it is Charlotte Ayanna. Abandoned by her mentally disturbed mother, raised in foster homes, given a lucky pick by Ricky Martin for his music video, and a proper movie debut opposite Daryl Hannah in DANCING AT THE BLUE IGUANA (Radford, 2000), the actress combines a hurt beauty and a great deal of conviction. When not betrayed by the writer, director, or the editor, she somehow makes Claire work as a character. Her playful scenes with Brody are relaxed and charming, and there is a damp passion in their love scenes, even if you wonder at the amount of footage Director Sehr devotes to Brody's moves, kissing the nipples of her perfect, firm breasts, etc.

[After the first time, not entirely necessary to the forward motion of the story.]

Anyway, we can but hope for her continued good luck. Being paired with new hero Brody may get her parts in better pictures.

Brody acted in LOVE THE HARD WAY (which might not have been theatrically distributed here without him) long before Roman Polanski gave the gaunt young actor his break in THE PIANIST, and so the picture will not be marked against him. Who knows? It may cause the Studios to brush off some old scripts Bogart never got to before he died.

---------------

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