Thursday, December 29, 2011

Following The Law


Look into his eyes.  Put aside that they are beautiful.  Put aside the fact that this is what an old-style movie star would have looked like if he had been around during the height of the MGM era.

Instead, concentrate on the fact that Jude Law can actually act, something that few of his generation can actually say.  Law has excelled in certain films, but he has also made some simply abysmal choices (and no, I'm not referring to the nanny).

I recall the first Jude Law film I saw, and I think most people came to know him through Gattaca. If I remember correctly it wasn't just because he was a beautiful youth in the film that made him so memorable in the film (one which my friend Fidel Gomez, Jr.--who may or may not be dead--still sharply disagree on), but it was because behind the facade of the privileged young man there seemed to be not just anger at being in his situation, but because there was also boredom and frustration with his life before becoming paralyzed.  He created a scene-stealing performance given that he was not the name star in Gattaca (that would have been Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman).

It's a sign of how quickly he rose that a mere two years later came a role that came to burn itself in the memory of moviegoers and his first Oscar nomination: Dickie Greenleaf in The Talented Mr. Ripley.  His role was that of, curiously enough, the privileged youth, an object of desire for both Matt Damon's Tom Ripley and Gwyneth Paltrow's  Marge Sherwood.  Law created a character one both envied and felt sorry for: someone who was oblivious to anyone other than himself, who was both caring and careless with others.  He was the best of friends, but once he tired of you, he moved on.  Dickie disappears from The Talented Mr. Ripley near half-way through the film, yet we keep remembering him.  That's a sign of a great performance.

Somehow, it just seemed Jude Law would be both a big star and a respected actor.  In fact, the constant jokes from Chris Rock about Jude Law's ubiquity at the Oscars one year got under Sean Penn's skin (and in fairness to Rock, I thought they were funny and not to be taken so seriously).  However, no amount of talent (and Law has it) could save him from some curious choices, if not downright disasters.

Now, in fairness I have never seen Cold Mountain.  In fact, the only thing I can think of when I hear Cold Mountain is a parody on MAD TV where the characters from Cold Mountain faced off against the characters from The Lord of the Rings on Family Feud, and Renee Zellweger's character was the chief object of ridicule, always shouting, "You ain't ever gonna git Cold Mountain" in her wild hillbilly voice.  (For the record, even though I haven't seen Cold Mountain, I think that year's Best Supporting Actress was Shohreh Aghdashloo for House of Sand and Fog, who was clearly robbed to give Zellweger an Oscar that year for not getting it the previous two years earlier for Bridget Jones' Diary and Chicago).  He was nominated, but since then we haven't heard much from him...at least that doesn't involve his complicated private life.

It isn't that he's lost his talent.  I don't even think he's lost his way creatively (the short clips I've seen of his performance on Broadway as Hamlet show he still has great abilities).  I think it has to do with the fact that the roles he's chosen have either been in bad films or he's been bad in them.

Take Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.  Fidel I hope has forgiven me for being so enthusiastic about the film...before I actually saw it with him.  (Frankly, Fidel shouldn't complain: I'M the one that paid for both our tickets, so he should stop kvetching).  I know what they were going for: a throwback to the 1940s-style serials, but everything about it was wrong: it was loud, it was overblown with a ridiculous plot, bad acting (sorry, Jude--even you) and the ending was so atrocious people in the audience were actually shouting their disapproval.  I just sat in my seat, sinking into it, embarrassed for everyone and myself for letting myself get carried away by the trailers. 

At least I learned a few things from Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow: one, temper your enthusiasm until after the film, two, it's a sign of a bad film when the best performance comes from someone who's been dead fifteen years (Laurence Olivier), three, all the CGI and blue/green screens can't make up for what you actually have in terms of cast and crew, and four, Giovanni Ribisi makes for one hell of a "plucky sidekick" (that's an inside joke between Fidel Gomez, Jr. and myself). 

I think part of the problem is that filmmakers try to make Law the star of their project (Alfie, Sleuth, The Holiday) when, despite his obvious talent, he hasn't gotten to be a big-time marquee name.  When he works with others, well...Let's just say that I think he's great in Sherlock Holmes, but I think the first movie is crap (as of this writing I can't bring myself to go see A Game of Shadows, but I expect I'll wander down there soon enough).  I think his take on Watson is better than Nigel Bruce (who always made Watson look like a dithering idiot, which Watson was not--he just wasn't as smart as Holmes, but then only Irene Adler ever was, yet I digress).  In short, I think, at least on film, Jude Law excels when he has someone to work with or against.  When he's asked to carry the entire project or at least a good chunk of it, then we run into problems. 

Of course, part of the blame has to lie with Law himself.  Repo Men was a failure because the plot didn't work and he didn't work either.  I've already gone over a bit about Sky Captain, but again, he was not good there either.  Granted, an actor can be better than the material (ex. Sherlock Holmes) but Law at times has failed to deliver the goods.  The best (or worst) example was the remake of All The King's Men.  The movie wasn't just a colossal disaster, but Law's American accent (in particular a Southern accent) was to be kind fleeting, forced, and so, so very wrong. 

In short, I think Jude Law is a great actor but not a great movie star.  He was part of a great ensemble in Contagion, and I've always said he and Robert Downey, Jr. are the best parts of Sherlock Holmes films (I hope A Game of Shadows is actually worth my time).  Now, at his age, he still doesn't look like he's entering middle-age, and I think he still has a great career in front of him (something I can't say for his fellow Brit Robert Pattinson or RPattz's teen wolf buddy Taylor Lautner).  Once their looks fade, so will they.  Law, on the other hand, has raw talent on his side. 

Now at the crossroads of his career and life, my humble advise is for him to keep going on Broadway and the West End, continue working with ensembles, and every now and again venture to leading roles, preferably ones that don't require great beauty (don't go for Biblical or Roman epics--somehow the togas won't do, unless you're doing Julius Caesar).  I think Jude Law is a great talent; he has so much more to give, much more than just those beautiful eyes.

With that, I wish a happy 39th birthday to Jude Law (thus making him officially as old as Jack Benny).

1 comment:

  1. He was also pretty great in the underrated Closer all the way back in 2004 - even though that year also saw him in the disastrous Alfie remake (here in the UK, this destroyed most of the respect he'd enjoyed up to that point).

    I'm glad you also think he rose above the material in Sherlock Holmes - I found myself hugely frustrated that such a good Watson and Holmes should find themselves in such a disappointing film.

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