Love the Hard Way

Adapted from a Chinese novel, produced and directed by Germans, and shot on location in the Bronx, this 2001 drama never grows roots deep enough to feel completely authentic—its main characters, a petty blackmailer (Adrien Brody) who's secretly writing a novel and a brilliant but naive Columbia University student (Charlotte Ayanna) who falls for him, seem to have stepped out of a 1930s Warner Brothers melodrama. But their relationship is so subtly inflected with fear, envy, and self-loathing on both sides of the class divide that I was drawn in nonetheless. Brody is a compelling presence throughout (his recent Oscar for The Pianist probably accounts for this belated U.S. release), and he's ably supported by Jon Seda as his good-hearted partner in crime and Pam Grier as the vice cop who's out to get them. Peter Sehr directed. 104 min.

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