Movie review: 'Love the Hard Way'

CrimeCrime, Law and JusticeMoviesEntertainmentJon SedaSocial IssuesProstitution

2 1/2 stars (out of 4)

In a snakeskin jacket, Adrien Brody echoes Nicolas Cage's character in "Wild at Heart." Sure, Brody is a bit skinny - maybe in need of a haircut, much like Cage's Sailor Ripley. But the swagger is there, minus Cage's Elvis-inspired charm and confidence.

As small-time New York City hustler Jack, however, Brody's charisma remains much more snake-like and unpredictable - much like "Love the Hard Way."

Filmed before Roman Polanski's "The Pianist," for which Brody plucked a dark-horse Oscar in the Best Actor category, "Love the Hard Way" will undoubtedly pick up some heat in its tardy release. But here, audiences get a much different Brody in a dark, uneven character study in the vein of another Polanski film, "Bitter Moon."

Like "Bitter Moon" and "Wild at Heart," "Love the Hard Way" is driven by obsession. As the film opens, Jack's heavy-handed bravura fools everyone but naive college student Claire (Charlotte Ayanna), who meets the ill-mannered Casanova while she's working at a movie theater. At first, she thinks he's just a thug, a street-level thief scrounging for a buck. And she's right, because at least on this point, he's honest. She's attracted to his criminal lifestyle, perhaps even glamorizes it. Soon, Claire mistakes her obsession for love, and she spirals into a psychological flameout that may destroy them both.

Before Claire enters his life, however, Jack and his partner, Charlie (Jon Seda in a scene-stealing performance), are criminal entrepreneurs. They dress up as policemen to shake down foreign businessmen. Teaming with acting students posing as prostitutes, Jack and Charlie barge in on hotel-room festivities and do surprisingly well eliciting bribes. When he's not robbing foreigners, Jack spends his time in a wooden storage shed, writing pulp fiction and collecting first-edition books.

These are the intimate details, the human cracks that are supposed to make us feel for Jack. Except they don't. Jack has all the decorations of a tortured writer - the furiously filled-out notebooks and messy romantic relationships - but it's mostly posturing.

Claire, his obsessive rag doll and sometime bedmate, isn't privy to this side of him, but she senses it may be there - however shallow. Jack even agrees that he's bad for her, that she should leave, but she keeps coming back after each lie and infidelity.

The title, "Love the Hard Way," alludes to Claire's disintegration, her self-destructive ploy to get Jack's attention. Short one girl in their grift, Claire inserts herself, not actually caring whether she has sex with the men they set up. In response, what Jack feels isn't love, but another unlikely emotion for him: torturous guilt.

Writer-director Peter Sehr displays obvious directing talent, especially in his use of nonlinear love scenes. He shows the coupling, the approach and release all at once, out of order, mixing the entire seduction ritual into one fluid montage. It's a refreshing surprise when he uses the same technique to frame Claire's emotional breakdown. If only Sehr employed this visual verve throughout "Love the Hard Way," it could have carried the movie over some rough spots. As it plays now, both Brody and Ayanna hold their own, though not always our attention.

"Love the Hard Way"
Directed by Peter Sehr; screenplay by Marie Noelle, Sehr; photographed by Guy Dufaux; edited by Christian Nauheimer; production design by Debbie DeVilla; produced by Wolfram Tichy. A Kino International release; opens Friday, June 27. Running time: 1:44. Not rated (nudity, sex, profanity, prostitution and fighting)
Jack - Adrien Brody
Claire - Charlotte Ayanna
Charlie - Jon Seda
Jeff - August Diehl
Linda Fox - Pam Grier

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
CrimeCrime, Law and JusticeMoviesEntertainmentJon SedaSocial IssuesProstitution
  • Make a night of it

    Find: • Recommended dining • Recommended bars

Comments
Loading