Call it the Oscar virus. A winner’s next movie after taking home a golden boy is often a howling dog. Russell Crowe takes the Oscar prize for Gladiator and the booby prize for Proof of Life. Julia Roberts follows Erin Brockovich with The Mexican. Roberto Benigni trails Life Is Beautiful with — yikes! — Pinocchio.
Now it’s Adrien Brody’s turn to face the Oscar jinx. His new film, Love the Hard Way, was actually made before The Pianist, the Holocaust drama that won him the Academy Award at twenty-nine, making him the youngest Best Actor victor ever. Love, sadly, is easy to hate. It’s a posturing, pandering tale of sexual obsession in thrall to its own overweening self-importance.
Brody, sporting a snakeskin jacket like the one the young Marlon Brando wore in The Fugitive Kind, plays Jack, a skirt-chasing New York hood running a small-time prostitution scam. Jack’s smarmy charm is at first a turnoff to Claire (Charlotte Ayanna), a graduate student whose wit impresses him. Their unlikely affair quickly bores Jack, but Claire can’t get enough, even debasing herself for this snake. As directed and co-written by Peter Sehr, Jack is an impossible role. Yet Brody makes it work through the vitality and finesse of his acting. He has excelled before The Pianist: in Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam, Barry Levinson’s Liberty Heights and Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line. But to shine in a turd like this shows Brody has the stuff that — damn the Oscar jinx — makes an actor last.