Adrien Brody's character in Love The Hard Way reeks of writerly contrivances: A fast-talking, Kerouac-quoting hood with a poet's soul, he outwardly disdains uppity book-learning, but he secretly reads poetry, collects antique books, and works on an autobiographical novel. When Brody meets cute with vivacious college student Charlotte Ayanna, their path seems certain. Ayanna will bridge the gap between Brody's tough-guy veneer and sensitive interior, while Brody will add a dash of much-needed excitement and danger to her staid existence. Love The Hard Way begins like a predictably quirky romance-of-opposites, but then it defies expectations at every turn, showing a welcome disregard for the strictures of formula and genre. A romantic drama with a film noir's heart of darkness, the film crafts a heartbreaking love story out of self-degradation, sordid crime, and an extended trip to a personal abyss. Despairingly in love with a brittle emotional porcupine and unable to break through his ironclad defenses, Ayanna tries to become as jaded, tough, and cavalier as Brody, inspired equally by revenge, desperation, and a desire to win him that knows no limits. Fearlessly exploring the tricky point where love ends and masochism begins, Love The Hard Way has a perfect lead in Brody, who radiates the effortless swagger of a one-man Rat Pack and remains sympathetic even when he's subjecting Ayanna to horrific emotional abuse. Brody's layered, intricately textured performance carries the film, but his counterpart holds her own, making her character's obsession and descent into self-degradation plausible and tragic. Brody's Oscar victory and newfound star power might have secured Love The Hard Way its theatrical release, but his depth and charisma are what make the film haunting and surprisingly resonant.