That shiny Best Actor Oscar notwithstanding, the jury's still out on Adrien Brody's capabilities as an actor. Setting aside The Pianist, what do we have? A solid but small role in Summer of Sam as an anxious '70s punk. A solid but small role in The Thin Red Line as an anxious World War II soldier. A solid but small role in Liberty Heights as an anxious Baltimore Jew. And a journeyman job in his lead in Bread and Roses, where he played an anxious union organizer. All nice enough work, and Lord knows we need somebody to play those anxious roles now that Woody Allen and Bob Balaban are getting on in years. But as an actor, he deserves no more praise than any other young actor who's landed a few good parts -- Brendan Fraser, say, or Philip Seymour Hoffman. Brody is brilliant at playing the wounded man, and in the ear of burly mushmouths like Vin Diesel, that's daring. But it's not necessarily a great acting career.
Love the Hard Way isn't going to settle the matter. As Jack Grace, he's a conflicted, embittered, and, yes, anxious young man who commits small-time crimes in New York City hotel rooms. He and his partner Charlie (Jon Seda) use strippers and acting student to play prostitutes; dressed as cops, Jack and Charlie collar the johns and loot their wallets. It's a cheap life he's got, and Brody is sharp enough to play Jack as a guy who knows it. When he slips on his snazzy snakeskin jacket, he looks like he's trying too hard, and when he says he doesn't care for books or intellectuals, he's lying. His private office - which happens to be a pallet in a storage space - serves as his sanctuary, where he works on novelizing his own life and reading the works of Charles Bukowski and Ezra Pound, first editions of which he buys from a fence.
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