Oh Jude. How many ups and downs you've had since breaking through to celebrity status with your Oscar-nominated turn in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Things were going quite well for you up until the fall of 2004 when - through no fault of your own - a whopping six films of yours landed at roughly the same time. Then your "reel" life (Closer's Dan, the title character in Alfie) began to catch up with your non-actorly actions once your affair with the kids' nanny was exposed. After the tabloids swooped in, your reputation as an artist isn't quite what it used to be (*coughSiennaMillercough*). Your career choices also leave much to be desired. Even now, some years later, your latest film Breaking and Entering (which you admittedly have some nice moments in) has you starring as a cheating spouse! What gives? I'm hoping that in the next few years, you enjoy something of a creative Renaissance, but in the meantime, at least I have your amusing, smartly-played turn as the smarmy Brad Stand in I Heart Huckabees to keep me occupied. In an ensemble this good, I'm aware it's quite the statement when I declare that Law's caricature is the standout here (barring several glaring accent slips.) It is a performance that starts out fully detestable (taking over the Open Spaces coalition from poor, unpopular Albert), turns blisteringly funny ("What - what - what - what... whooa, whaaat?"), scarily tragic (two words: chicken salad) and then makes us laugh all over again ("Shania cares!"; also see picture.) Throughout the film, Bradley - a sales executive at the Walmart-like Huckabees Corporation - has one priority: to ensure the continuation of the franchise. Even if it means lying, exploiting and cheating his way to the top, and having no qualms about doing so. Obnoxiously patronizing everyone around him and smugly taking pride in his seemingly brilliant ploys (note how often he smirks and rolls his eyes), Law makes every single moment count.
But I think we all know why Law appears this high as opposed to simply making the runner-up list or taking a slot in the 'teens. It is that knockout scene late in the film, equal parts hysterical and devastating, in which the existential detectives (Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman, a most appealing duo) confront Brad with evidence of his desperate attempts to hide his deep-rooted depression. Initially, Brad is able to dodge their advances, mocking and bullying them by playing copycat and threatening to sue them. He even feigns sobs when they bring up his "fat sad" gecko-obsessed brother, but this proves to be the chink in his armor. When they accuse him of using an anecdote over and over again to impress clients and friends ("the mayonnaise story"), he vehemently denies the charge. But then the audio tape starts playing - "Shania's there, promoting her apparel..." Date after date, excerpt after excerpt plays, and Law's sunshine-boy exterior visibly begins to melt before our very eyes. Watch how he begins snickering at his own presumed hilarity, giggling away and anticipating the best parts of the joke. Then his grin fades, the laughs subside, he grows concerned, his eyebrows furrow... He bites his fingernails, plays with his hands and even takes a small nibble out of a stretchy plastic gecko (a gift from his brother.) It's a fascinating moment to watch, so detailed and internalized, with Law letting go of his arrogance and sense of superiority. The tape ends, and then the detectives reassert their offensive, dismissing his lame efforts to defend himself. And once he utters the dreaded words ("How am I not myself?") he is a total and utter goner. Even though it is hard to deny that the guy definitely had it coming, this comeuppance is no less heart-wrenching and difficult to watch.