What the Hell Happened to Jude Law?
Jude Law has been on the edge of breaking out onto the A-list for the last decade. And yet, he’s never quite made it. This is in spite of the fact that for a while there it seemed like Law was in every other movie made. In 2004, Law starred in no less than 6 movies!
(I bring this up partially so I can add the disclaimer that I’m not going to cover every single movie Law has appeared in. Otherwise, this article would become a book.)
Since then, Law’s rising star has cooled a little. What the hell happened?
Jude Law’s first major movie role was in the 1997 sci-fi film Gattaca opposite Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman.
Gattaca is a very smart science fiction story about a future in which genetic tests determine one’s social standing. Hawke starred as a man who wanted to be an astronaut but was not deemed genetically fit for the job. To overcome this limitation, he borrows genetic material from Law whose DNA is perfect.
I think that perfection is part of why Law has never really caught on with a broad audience. He’s too good looking. Men find him threatening. And unlike Brad Pitt who can convince us he’s one of the guys with movies like Fight Club, there’s something about Law that distances him from a lot of men. We’ll see it in the roles he plays. He’s played a lot of “perfect” men.
Anyway, Gattaca got really good reviews. But audiences took a pass anyway.
In 1997 Law also appeared as a male prostitute in Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Kevin Spacey and John Cusack co-starred. The movie was not a hit with audiences or critics.
It should be noted that Law also played an unusually high number of male prostitutes over the course of his career.
In 1998, Law appeared in three films, but the odds are you have never seen or heard of any of them. In 1999, Law appeared in David Cronenberg’s film eXistenZ.
eXistenZ is a trippy little movie starring Jennifer Jason Leigh as a game designer in the near future. As can be expected from a Cronenberg movie, the games include an organic element. There are questions about reality and the nature of existence.
Like Gattaca, this movie got mostly positive reviews but may have been “too smart” for general audiences. If you enjoy Cronenberg, it’s worth checking out.
Later that year, Law had his break-out role in The Talented Mr. Ripley. The movie was based around the premise that Jude Law is so good looking and charming that both Matt Damon and Gweneth Paltrow want him.
As filmed by Anthony Minghella in gorgeous Italy, Law comes across as the the most handsome and charming man in the world. Eventually, Law’s character spurns Damon’s Ripley and Ripley kills him in a fit of jealous rage. Apparently, Jude Law is so amazing that those who can not have him are compelled to murder.
The Talented Mr. Ripley got good reviews and was a hit at the box office. It scored a number of nominations come award time including a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Law.
Unfortunately, Law was unable to capitalize on the attention Ripley brought him. His next major role was the World War 2 drama, Enemy at the Gates.
Enemy didn’t make much of an impression with critics or audiences and is largely forgotton.
In 2001, Law also appeared in Stephen Spielberg’s Stanley Kubrick-inspired sci fi film, AI. I love Spielberg and I love Kubrick. But apparently, they are not two great tastes that taste great together. I hated AI!
Law plays yet another male prostitute. Gigolo Joe is a lovebot who helps Haley Joel Osment’s adorable robotic Pinocchio in his journey to find the Blue Fairy. This time, Law’s perfection is so complete that he isn’t even human.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about AI because it invariably causes me to rant about the multiple endings – each less satisfying than the one before it.
AI was supposed to be the movie that made Law into a star. Critics were mixed though most praised Law’s performance. Law was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. Audiences (myself included) were frustrated by it.