Top Ten | Best Jude Law Performances
While pitching sequels for our recent podcast episode on A.I. Artificial Intelligence I had a bit of an epiphany. Jude Law is a great character actor trapped in a leading man’s body. Though his talent is often overshadowed on account of his ridiculous good looks, over the past two decades he’s quietly amassed a body of work characterised by bold choices in risky, interesting films. Here are ten of his most memorable moments…
Law’s turn as Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas in Brian Gilbert’s Wilde was an early breakthrough that made excellent use of his well-bred beauty. More than mere window dressing however, Law more than held his own against Stephen Fry’s showier turn as Oscar Wilde, capturing the cocktail of arrogance, exhibitionism and vulnerability that caused the famous playwright to risk his career and reputation in one of the most scandalous affairs of the era. His singing leaves a bit to be desired, mind…
Law followed Wilde with another memorable supporting turn in Andrew Niccol’s cult sci-fi classic Gattaca. As the genetically perfect former swimming star Jerome Eugene Morrow, he relishes some of the most eminently quotable dialogue in the movie, stealing practically every scene he appears in against Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman’s more subdued leads. The film initially tanked at the Box Office, but Law’s tragi-comic performance confirmed him as Hollywood’s go-to performer for charming antihero roles
Two years after Gattaca, David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ gave Law a meaty role in another sci-fi adventure that proved to be a few years ahead of its time. As morally ambiguous security guard Ted Pikul, he more than holds his own against notorious scenery-chewer Jennifer Jason Leigh – and Cronenberg’s memorably grotesque special effects – as the pair battle their way through a hyper-violent virtual reality world. Once again, audiences took their time to come around to the movie, but it proved that even as his career was skyrocketing, Law was unafraid of taking on provocative, offbeat projects that other A-listers might have avoided.
The Talented Mr Ripley (1999)
Perhaps the epitome of Law’s beautiful bastard phase, The Talented Mr Ripley captures the actor at his most magnetic and achingly beautiful. Sharing the screen with an A-list cast including Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett, he practically walks away with the picture as manipulative playboy Dickie Greenleaf. Investing real depth and ambiguity into what could have been a fairly shallow role, Law earned his first Oscar Nomination for the role.
Ever wondered what a sequel to The Talented Mr Ripley might look like? Check out our Beyond The Box Set podcast on the movie, in which we compete to come up with the most ridiculous spin-off ideas for the film. And no, neither of us have read the books…
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (1999)
It seems not even the power of Steven Spielberg could put Jude Law in a sci-fi movie that actually made money, but despite mixed reviews and mediocre box office takings, A.I. Artificial Intelligence holds up as a flawed but fascinating work that once again gives the actor a memorable supporting turn. In order to give affable sex robot Gigolo Joe a artificially light-on-his-feet physicality, Law spent months studying ballet with choreographer Francesca Jaynes. The work paid off, even critics who were turned off by the the film’s uneven tone and epic runtime singled Law’s joyous performance out as a highlight.
This movie was the moment we realised we’d fallen in love with Jude Law on this podcast. Check out our A.I. Artificial Intelligence episode to hear our fantasy sequel ideas for the movie, and to learn how to make that 146 minute run time go by a little bit faster with our A.I. drinking game…
The Road to Perdition (2002)
Distinguishing himself in a cast that pits him against acting legends Tom Hanks and Paul Newman, Law brings a menacing intensity to his role as hitman Harlen Maguire in Sam Mendes’ Oscar-Winning crime drama The Road To Perdition. The tense cat-and-mouse game he plays with Hanks’ mob enforcer Michael Sullivan is one of the most gripping elements of the film, elevated by the electrifying chemistry between the two actors.
Cold Mountain (2003)
The sweeping romantic epic is a rite of passage for every A-lister. Re-teaming with Talented Mr Ripley director Anthony Minghella, Law proved he was more than up to the challenge, earning his second Academy Award nomination as Confederate deserter W.P.Inman in this adaptation of Charles Frazier’s acclaimed novel Cold Mountain. The film is the definition of Oscar-bait, and both Law and co-star Nicole Kidman wander in and out of their heavy southern accents from time to time, but if you can forgive the occasional excesses it stands as an indulgent treat – representing the peak of Jude Law as Hollywood movie star.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
After the success of Cold Mountain, Law endured mixed results with his next few films. Fluffy festive rom-com The Holiday was a big hit, and he was praised for his role in Mike Nicholls Closer, but he also starred in a string of box office disasters that derailed his transition to full-blown leading man. However, while missteps like Alfie, Breaking & Entering and All The King’s Men are best forgotten, time has been quite kind to quirky sci-fi adventure Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. A heavily stylised love letter to steampunk from first-time director Kerry Conran, it’s deeply silly but great fun, with fabulous visual effects and Law clearly having the time of his life in the title role. Audiences didn’t know what to make of it in 2004, but in today’s Marvel-dominated cinema landscape it might have been an easier sell.
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Cast as Doctor Watson to Robert Downey Jr.’s titular super sleuth proved to be a match made in cinema heaven in Guy Ritchie’s witty take on the Sherlock Holmes canon. A devout fan of the original novels, Law delivers a cooler, edgier interpretation of Watson than the bumbling sidekick he’s often portrayed as, demonstrating his whip smart comic timing in his scenes against Downer Jr. With over $500 million in global box office takings, Sherlock Holmes was one of the biggest hits of Law’s career, spawning an equally successful sequel. The third movie in the franchise is due for release next year.
Dom Hemingway (2013)
Released with little fanfare in 2013, Richard Shepard’s Dom Hemingway was largely ignored by critics and barely made a ripple at the box office. However, it stands an absolute must-see curio for any Jude Law fan, finding the actor going balls to the wall in a gloriously over-the-top performance that reaches near Nicholas Cage-ian levels of scenery-chewing intensity. Squeezed into a series of eye-wateringly tight tailored suits and with his receding hairline slicked back practically to the base of his neck, Law abandons all vanity in his portrayal of an East End career criminal struggling to adapt after 12 years in prison. With an uneven script and some very questionable treatment of the film’s female characters, Dom Hemingway is far from a perfect movie, but for the experience of watching a well loved Hollywood actor quite literally letting it all hang out, it’s well worth seeking out.
We first discovered Dom Hemingway in episode 31 of the Beyond The Box Set podcast, and it’s fair to say that we had a *lot* of questions. You can check out our reaction to the movie our fantasy sequel ideas and a potentially lethal Dom Hemingway drinking game by listening here.
Do you agree with our list? Which must-see Jude Law performances do you feel we’ve sinfully overlooked? Let us know in the comments below…
Also, if you’re a fan of our podcast, tell us which of these movies you’d like us to dedicate an episode to next. Is it about time Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow got a sequel, or would you prefer to see Law returning to the Cronenberg universe in a follow-up to eXistenZ? We’re definitely here for more Jude Law, so if you ask nicely we might just make it happen…