vt Hard Attraction
Germany, US / 104 minutes / color / Vif, P’Artisan, Time, Open City, Vine, Kino Dir: Peter Sehr Pr: Wolfram Tichy Scr: Peter Sehr, Marie Noëlle Story: Yi Ban Shi Huo Yan, Yi Ban Shi Hai Shui (n.d.) by Wang Shuo Cine: Guy Dufaux Cast: Adrien Brody, Charlotte Ayanna, Jon Seda, August Diehl, Pam Grier, Liza Jessie Peterson, Elizabeth Regen, Katherine Moennig, Joey Kern.
In NYC, petty crooks Jack Grace (Brody) and Charlie King (Seda) operate a scam whereby actress friends Pam (Peterson) and Sue (Regen) pose as prostitutes and lure businessmen into rooms in the hotel where associate Jeff (Diehl) works as a desk clerk; Jack and Charlie, dressed as cops, then burst into the room, “arrest” the women, and accept bribes from the businessmen to keep the whole affair off the record. When Jack meets attractive Columbia University biology grad student Claire Harrison (Ayanna) at the arthouse cinema, The Screening Room, where she has a part-time job, he puts the make on her, tells her he’s slept with over two hundred women, and gets laughed at for his pains.
Charlie (Jon Seda) and Jack (Adrien Brody) prepare to fleece another bunch of suckers.
Later, when Jack and Charlie are on campus collecting debts from a student for a numbers racket, they run into Claire, her best friend Debbie (Moennig) and her boyfriend Fitzgerald (Kern). Despite Debbie’s warnings, Claire starts an affair with Jack, whose boasts of being a criminal she believes are just part of the constant reinvention of his own history that he undertakes in parallel with his street-smart, anti-intellectual pose—a pose that she to an extent sees through, although not so far as to detect that his passion is collecting first editions of literary classics and that he’s writing an evidently Hemingway-influenced novel.
Sue and Pam are busted by Vice Squad Detective Linda Fox (Grier), who clearly has Jack and Charlie marked down as well but lacks the evidence to book them. Jeff gets a job at a different hotel and, once Pam is released from jail, the idea is to start all over again—although Jack vehemently resists the suggestions of Jeff and Charlie that Claire should take the place of the absent Sue. Things change radically, however, when Claire returns from a conference to discover Jack not just in bed with Pam but clearly having reneged on his promise to her to go straight.
Detective Linda Fox (Pam Grier) makes it clear to Jack (Adrien Brody) that she’s got his number.
Thereafter Claire seeks to demean herself in any way she can. She experiments with hooking, then joins in the scam—disgusting Pam by actually having sex with the victims rather than merely leading them on. Jack, who initially tried to stop this madness, is seemingly powerless to do anything except be her accomplice in her self-destruction . . .
This was the movie that Brody made before The Pianist (2002), which latter brought him a Best Actor Oscar. Although Love the Hard Way had had some festival screenings (where it won a few minor awards) before then, it was only the bringing of Brody into the limelight by the later movie that gained the earlier one a theatrical release, in 2003—and, even then, it was limited. Its critical reception was generally lukewarm, although Roger Ebert gave it a qualified rave and there was general praise for the performances of the two principals. That praise was well deserved. Brody is completely convincing as the guy who’s a cheap trickster on the surface yet has a hidden life, confined largely to a ramshackle office he’s set up in a storage unit, where he dreams of literary greatness and explores his own soul. When Jack first meets Claire, we can’t understand why she should display the slightest interest in this seemingly empty smartass; after not too many minutes, though, it seems perfectly natural that she should do so. Perhaps even better is Ayanna, who is as convincing but in an even more difficult role: she succeeds in persuading us that a highly intelligent, highly attractive young woman would become sufficiently besotted by a morally rotten, thoroughly unreliable scumbag that, having failed in her initial aspiration of raising him to her level, she chooses instead to descend to his.
Claire (Charlotte Ayanna) waits in the darkness to confront Jack over his infidelities.
The movie’s not helped by its soundtrack. In the opening minutes, as we’re subjected to an aggressive piece of rentarap, our hearts sink: the message seems to be that we’re going to be subjected to a rehash of a movie that’s bored us rigid a hundred times before, with the producers desperately trying to ginger it up with loud, bad music. After that, though, as Brody and then Ayanna begin to work their artistry—not to mention Seda, who starts off unobtrusively but then becomes a magnetic figure—the tale takes hold of us. The editing is marked by occasional series of little non-chronological jump cuts—as when Claire first goes back to Jack’s place or, later, discovers him in bed with Pam—as if we’re perhaps meant to be seeing the different courses of action the characters could choose to take at these crux moments. The result of this particular piece of trickery lies somewhere between effective and irritating.
Wang’s novel has been filmed again, this time in HK, as Yi Ban Hai Shui, Yi Ban Shi Huo Yan (2008; vt Ocean Flame) dir Fendou Liu, with Fan Liao and Monica Mok.
On Amazon.com: Love the Hard Way