The Austin Chronicle

Love the Hard Way

Not rated, 104 min. Directed by Peter Sehr. Starring Adrien Brody, Charlotte Ayanna, Jon Seda, August Diehl, Pam Grier, Katherine Moennig.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 20, 2003

Made prior to Adrien Brody's leap into stardom with his Oscar win for The Pianist, Love the Hard Way represents the kind of small, brooding independent film in which Brody will no longer have to appear. Directed and co-written by German helmer Peter Sehr, Love the Hard Way takes places amid the gutter glam of New York City, in a world of self-illusion where everyone is clamoring to be someone they are not. It’s a mostly clichéd story about a good girl who falls for a bad boy and believes that their love is strong enough to make him change his ways. When has that ever worked – in real life or the movies? That something at all memorable arises from this foolishness is a testament to this acting ensemble’s skills. They cut a distinctive swath through these well-trod New York streets, bringing warmth and personality to their all-too-familiar character types. Brody plays a lowlife named Jack who – along with his partner-in-crime Charlie (Seda), a willing hotel desk clerk, and a couple of cash-strapped ladies – runs a scam on unsuspecting out-of-town johns by donning cop uniforms and busting in on their illegal tête-à-têtes and pilfering all the frightened men’s cash and expensive souvenirs. Jack is a self-invented hustler whose outward flash belies his inner sensitivity. He’s also a self-taught writer who works on a novel in between his stick-ups – a Big Apple Jean Genet in a snakeskin jacket. He falls hard for Claire (Ayanna), who works the concession stand at New York’s Screening Room movie arthouse, but is really a biology graduate student working her way through school. See, everyone has double identities, including the faux callgirl-cum-acting student and the plain-clothes police detective (Grier), whose clothes are anything but plain. Claire tries desperately to reform her man, but Jack soon gives her the brush-off – for her own good, of course. There’s not much more to the story than that. The movie doesn’t delve very deeply into the psychologies of this compulsively-in-love pair. They are as striking to look at as their surroundings, but the characters remain as opaque as their props. Brody nevertheless manages to stand out from the crowd here, mesmerizing viewers with his onscreen dynamism. He oozes the same screen magnetism he has shown in all his work thus far, perhaps the result of having grown up comfortable with a camera in his face as the son of famed photographer Sylvia Plachy. Although Love the Hard Way is saturated with a doomed romanticism that feels more fictitious than real, the actors lend the movie a potency that it would not have had otherwise.

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