Love The Hard Way

on June 06, 2003 by Annlee Ellingson
In "Love the Hard Way," director/writer Peter Sehr accurately captures new love--at its mildest distracting, at its harshest destructive. Jack (Adrien Brody) and Claire (Charlotte Ayanna) may live only a few blocks away from each other in New York City, but they are worlds apart. Jack is a small-time conman who, with the help of his crew and a couple of out-of-work actresses, bilks foreign businessmen out of currency, jewelry and electronics. But he has a softer side that not even his closest friends are privy to: He holes up in a public storage unit to write pulp fiction and harbors an interest in rare books. It takes Claire, a bookish biology student at an Ivy League university, to recognize his hidden potential.

   Despite their mutual attraction, Jack, who has never known real love, keeps Claire at a distance, refusing to give up his philandering habits and petty crimes, repeatedly breaking his promises, said and unsaid. Soon, the strain of the relationship takes its toll on Claire. She neglects her studies and skips classes, gradually spiraling into Jack's lifestyle, taking a role in his con and worse.

   Both Brody and Ayanna attack their parts with fearless zeal. Brody is confident as the arrogant and unlikable Jack, who tells Claire upon their first meeting, "I've slept with over 200 women," and "You have a really stupid laugh." Ayanna captures both Claire's initial innocence and her eventual world-weary self-destructiveness, when she declares, "Maybe I want him to take me with him" to hell. Unfortunately, the supporting characters are less intriguing.

   The story itself is brutally honest about its characters, even if they won't be with themselves: The audience recognizes that Jack really is being protective of Claire when he refuses to allow her to take part in his scheme, claiming he doesn't think she can pull it off. The script allows Claire to continue naively returning to his embrace, even though the viewer knows he'll only hurt her again. It's depressing that the awful way they treat each other strikes such a chord.

   In addition, production designer Debbie De Villa has selected some superb locations--Jack's apartment and workspace, dubbed "the wonderful place," come to mind--and added clever mise-en-scenic details, such as a cigarette lighter that plays Mozart. The cinematography by Guy Dufaux captures the gritty realism of modern-day New York, if no spectacular shot choices come to mind. Starring Adrien Brody, Charlotte Ayanna, Jon Seda, August Diehl and Pam Grier. Directed by Peter Sehr. Written by Peter Sehr and Marie Noelle. Produced by Wolfram Tichy. A Kino release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 110 min

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