MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

I Miss Jude Law

Jude Law has to be one of the most underrated and overexposed actors out there and the two go hand in hand; folks dismiss Law as just tabloid fodder with a pretty face and because of that, I think the public at large doesn’t appreciate him for being what he is.

And what is he?  Only someone with movie star good looks who commands the screen with his charisma and seemingly has zero interest in looking “cool.”  Or at least, that’s the trajectory his career was taking until recently, which of course meant that he was fast on his way to obscurity.

So I guess it should be no surprise that he signed up to play Dr. Watson in the blockbuster remake of Sherlock Holmes and is now starring in the futuristic action flick Repo Men in an attempt to build back some star power.  I haven’t seen Repo Men and I hope it’s excellent, but it seems to be a far cry from the type of films Law used to be attracted to. And I can’t help but wonder, how did he get here? He used to make such interesting choices, both in the films he chose to star in, as well as the character choices. He seldom played a part the way you expected it to be played, so why does it feel like he’s now playing by the rules?

I was looking through Law’s filmography the other day and I was astounded and how many good films he’s been in and how great he’s been in most of them.  1997 was the year I first noticed him.  I didn’t see his wonderful performance in Wilde until years later, but I remember being blown away by his range and his magnetism in both the brilliant Gattaca and the criminally underrated Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  I remember thinking, to paraphrase Butch and Sundance, “Who is this guy?”  Who is this guy who would spend the majority of his screen time in a wheelchair in Gattaca and yet seem so energetic and boisterous that when a climactic moment arrives where he encounters a set of stairs, we think, “holy shit, that’s right, how is he going to overcome this hurdle?”

It’s to Law’s credit that despite his disability being one of the most important aspects of his character, he helps to imbue the character with such energy and nuance that his disability gets backburnered.  Similarly in Midnight in the Garden … it’s astounding that someone who is killed within the first twenty minutes can remain such a presence, hovering over the rest of the film.  When I saw that film at the end of 1997, I knew that he had to become a major star.

Skip forward two years and we’ve got eXistenZ, the David Cronenberg videogame thriller, and Anthony Minghella’s sumptuous The Talented Mr. Ripley.  It’s the latter film that cemented Law as both an Academy Award nominee and someone the world could recognize.  Here was this tanned, beautiful man who commands the screen opposite some incredible actors, including Matt Damon and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

But I’m even more admiring of Law in eXistenZ, which was not a perfect film, because he (and the wonderful Jennifer Jason Leigh) are tasked with having to keep us engaged in a plot that is continually changing.  The narrative threads are purposefully loose and it’s up to Law and Leigh to help us navigate those waters and keep us interested.  And they pull it off.

He was the best thing about Road to Perdition and showed a willingness to de-glamorize himself; he knocked it out of the park as Gigolo Joe in the masterpiece that is A.I. and I enjoyed him in both Enemy at the Gates and the so-so Cold Mountain.  But I’d like to skip forward to 2004 because I think that was the Year of Jude Law and I think it helps to shed some light on where he is now.

In a span of four months, Law starred in four films, narrated another (Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events) and had little more than a cameo in the other (The Aviator).  Because of this release schedule, America was going to be inundated with Jude Law whether they liked it or not.  Let’s take a look at Law’s four major films that year —  two of them mediocre and two brilliant. First we have the needless remake of Alfie, which was doomed to fail from the start.

No matter how charismatic Law was (and is) in the part, there was no way he was going to make anyone forget about Michael Caine. When I think of the character of Alfie, I will always associate it with Caine. He owns that role. It also didn’t help that the remake version seemed to de-ball the very essence of the original film.  It seemed like Law was comfortable enough being the cad, but either the filmmakers or the studio wasn’t comfortable with a film where their hero impregnates his best friend’s girl.  At the end of the original, it seems as if Alfie is lost.  At the end of the remake, he is on his way to redemption.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was supposed to change cinema.  It didn’t.  Law plays his character, a comic book fighter pilot, pretty well.  But he’s lost in a sea of green screen.  It’s just not an actor’s film.  And to be completely honest, I remember very little about it, other than when I said to myself, “oh wow, this all looks incredibly fake.”

The two biggies for me are Closer and I Heart Huckabees.  In both films, Law is playing despicable characters and I think they are the two best performances of his career.  While Closer is a film that hews a bit closer to “reality,” both of his characters felt real to me.  In Closer, he is playing a man who is probably the biggest villain in the film, the way he deceives everyone including himself.  His character actually believes that he is the biggest victim because he can’t see past his own ego and his own self-absorption.  There’s such a high rate of difficulty for a performance like that and he absolutely nails it.  In the opening scenes, we are deceived by him as well, waiting for him to make amends somehow for all his wrongs throughout the film.  But just when we let our guard down and begin to trust him again, he lets us down.

But his performance as Brad Stand in I Heart Huckabees is the one that made me say, “hot damn, this guy is a treasure.”  He’s playing someone that is eminently unlikable, but by the end of the film, we grow to understand him despite the fact that he doesn’t really undergo any massive changes. By the end of the film, he is still someone who is (hilariously) obsessed with status, wealth and materialism, but the difference is that he becomes aware of it and it scares the shit out of him to really look inside himself and to hear his own words parroted back to him.

It’s a funny film, but he has a genuine crisis in this film, realizing that the only thing that is compelling him forward at the company he works for is the fact that he can bullshit and tell a good story.  I felt such an odd mixture of pity and justice when he vomits in his own hand at the board meeting.  I felt like he was getting what he deserved because he’d been a prick the whole movie, but the message of the film is about how we’re all vulnerable at times and we’re all human beings, and that scene drives that point home.  It’s a testament to Law that he is willing to go there.

In the six years since that landmark year, Law has been seen far less.  He starred in Minghella’s last film, he was in the tragically mediocre Wong-Kar Wai film My Blueberry Nights because how can you say no to working with Wong-Kar Wai? He played the handsome brit who romanced Cameron Diaz in The Holiday.  He was in the remake of Sleuth opposite Michael Caine and he was very good in it.  But it seemed like his career and his acting suddenly lost a lot of personality.

He’s not working in film as often and I wonder if it has to do with the general reaction to the films of 2004.  Or, more likely, the fact that he was always promoting films during that year and his love life was being played out in newspapers across the world.  He couldn’t focus on his craft, perhaps. Whatever it is, I miss Jude Law.  I didn’t want him to play Watson in the Sherlock Holmes film, but I was glad he was there.  I was happy to see his face and I thought he played that part as well as he could, given the constraints of a big-budget film.  And I’ll be happy to see him in Repo Men.  But I can’t help but wonder if we’ve all missed out.

I think there were so many great Jude Law performances that we didn’t get to see for one reason or another.  In 2004, he was straddling the line between being a huge movie star and being that great actor who never broke through.  He was, in a lot of ways, like Johnny Depp before Pirates of the Caribbean.  And now, with Sherlock Holmes, he’s like Depp after Pirates.  And just like with Depp, I liked Law better before.

Noah Forrest
March 15, 2010

Noah Forrest is a 26-year-old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon