Film Review: Love the Hard Way
Not one for some light popcorn munching...
There's a new Robert De Niro walking the manky back streets of New York. He's walked them before but he's getting better at it. His name is Adrien Brody.
In "Love the Hard Way", German director-writer Peter Sehr casts Brody in arguably his best role since Summer of Sam. The punk of the latter Spike Lee production is Jack, small-time conman and lady charmer who makes his bread bilking foreign businessmen out of money and jewels with the help of his crew and a couple of B-rated actresses.
Brody's love interest is biology brainbox Claire, powerfully played by Charlotte Ayanna. An odd pairing, Jack and his smitten one come from classically opposite sides of town. Claire is a bookish science student at an Ivy League university who earns some money selling tickets at an art-house cinema. That's where she's wooed by crocodile-coated Jack, with lines like ?I've slept with over two hundred women? and ?you've a really stupid laugh." Determined to unblock his hidden potential, Claire is totally drawn to Jack's rough edges, choosing to ignore those prescient early signs of his potential for hurt and destruction. Love between the two is at its mildest distracting, at its harshest destructive.
Despite the remonstrations of her best friend, Claire is stubbornly committed to making something work with Jack. After early promises of reform are broken, the dark self-destruction of Jack's life begins to ruin Claire?s. Front runner in her class, she's already dumped her decent-if-geeky boyfriend and now starts to duck college. Sucked into Jack's lifestyle she bizarrely feels an urge to prove herself more than a woolly-jumpered pretty biologist. Against his wishes, but without his refusal, she becomes part of his con games and then sinks deep into his red-light world, cruelly punishing him for taking her there and destroying herself. Jack selfishly refuses to pull her out, reeling out of control himself with the effect. Orphan Jack's tearaway past never included real love, only flings as fake and momentarily satisfying as the con artistry which provides his living.
The potential Claire saw in her streetwise boyfriend is justified perhaps upon our introduction to Jack's private world. His urban toughness won't allow him to share a very different side with Claire or his sidekicks: a down-town public storage unit serves as his daily space in which he writes semi-autobiographical pulp fiction and peruses his collection of rare books. Any willingness to begin to like Jack is quickly suppressed however. As much as we loathe Claire's naivety, we can only abhor Jack's cruelty. The story is brutally honest about its characters, even if they won't be with themselves. Thus Claire is allowed to return repeatedly to Jack's embrace, though we know desperately well it's only to be hurt again. But that's where the film takes its title: the depressingly awful ways of this relationship still allow the characters to return to each other, no matter how desperate and difficult the path of their love may appear. And that awfulness will strike a powerful chord with many viewers.
Brody and Ayanna bring a raw enthusiasm and a fearless zeal to their parts. There's a definite on-screen chemistry between the two. Confidence is Brody's hallmark while the porcelain-pretty Ayanna displays a wonderful versatility as she moves her character from leafy Ivy League campus to Jack's low-rent world, capturing very well Claire's initial innocence and her eventual world-weary self-destructiveness along the way. The supporting characters are however, Grace Jone's undercover cop act aside, largely underdeveloped and more weakly performed.
The locations are well chosen by production designer Debbie De Villa. In what was quite obviously a cost-effective production, most of the action centres around Jack's apartment which he shares and plots his shake downs with his sidekicks. Ironically dubbed "the wonderful place" its bare bareness - a loft above a razor-tough street - witnesses some of the cruellest trials and betrayal of Jack's relationship before we return there for a horrifically sad climax.