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Multi Media: Adrien Brody going darker and deeper

Friday, January 24, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Who knew? Adrien Brody, Matthew McConaughey and "Boomtown" star Neal McDonough portrayed baseball players in Disney's remake of "Angels in the Outfield," which had its world premiere at Three Rivers Stadium.

Brody, now receiving deserved acclaim for "The Pianist," has been working his way up the ladder, moving from small role to supporting player to, now, star. He carries Roman Polanski's real-life drama about a Polish musician who loses everything but his will to survive and his love of music. In the end, it proves to be enough.

In his early movies, Brody was cast as light comic relief, but his parts -- especially in Spike Lee's "Summer of Sam" -- have grown progressively darker and deeper. Space doesn't permit listing all of his movies, but here are some noteworthy ones from various periods in his career:

"Harrison's Flowers" (2002) -- Brody plays Kyle Morris, a wartime photographer with a chip on his shoulder and, in an early scene, cocaine in his nasal passages. He resents the name photographers with their fancy cameras, hotel rooms and prestigious prizes. He's out in the field, which is where a photo editor (Andie MacDowell) later heads to find her photographer husband, missing but declared dead. Convinced he's still alive, she heads for Yugoslavia, where she discovers an unlikely savior in Kyle and an Irish photographer (Brendan Gleeson). Its heart is in the right place, but it's hobbled by improbability and an ending that doesn't pack the necessary wallop. It does serve as a sobering reminder about the journalists who gave their lives trying to get the story or picture. Rated R for strong war violence and gruesome images, pervasive language and brief drug use.

"The Affair of the Necklace" (2001) -- Simon Baker of "The Guardian" as an 18th-century French gigolo? He does a convincing job, while Oscar winner Hilary Swank is ill-served by a poofy, unflattering wig and an accent that is neither here nor there. She is Countess Jeanne de la Motte-Valois, an orphan who wants to have her lineage authenticated and her family home returned. Snubbed by Queen Marie Antoinette, Jeanne hatches an elaborate scheme involving a diamond necklace and the mendacious Cardinal de Rohan. She's aided in her plot by the gigolo and her husband (Brody), in ponytailed wig and period britches. This movie's charms, namely its costumes and art direction, are lost on the small screen. It feels endless and uses a narrator to fill in the gaps of this true story. Rated R for some sexuality.

"Bread and Roses" (2000) -- Maya (Pilar Padilla), an illegal Mexican, and her older, married sister, Rosa (Elpidia Carrillo), clean offices in Los Angeles for $5.75 an hour. They have no benefits, live in fear of dismissal and, in Maya's case, is forced to give her boss a month's salary as "commission." Union organizer Sam Shapiro (Brody) wants to change all that, and he enlists Maya in his "Justice for Janitors" campaign. Although Maya goes to extreme lengths to secure some cash and Rosa has a harrowing back story, it took British director Ken Loach to dramatize the invisible American working poor who scrub toilets, dust desks and vacuum carpets -- for almost no money or respect. Norma Rae, meet Maya. R for strong language and brief nudity.

"Liberty Heights" (1999) -- Barry Levinson's fourth Baltimore-based movie, set in 1954, follows the romantic exploits of two brothers while tracking their father's deepening business problems. Brody is besotted by a blonde he encounters at a Halloween party, where a brawl over religion breaks out. His younger brother, meanwhile, becomes fascinated with the first black student at his high school. Their father (Joe Mantegna) runs a failing burlesque, a victim of that novelty called TV. Barry and Baltimore are usually a foolproof formula, but this ranks below "Diner," "Tin Men" and "Avalon." Rated R for crude language and sex-related material.

"Summer of Sam" (1999) -- Brody, in a spiky punk hairstyle reminiscent of the Statue of Liberty's crown and (later) a blond mohawk, really gets a chance to shine here as a Bronx boy who is suspected of being the Son of Sam killer because he's different. Is he ever. Shunning the disco music of the day, affecting a British accent, worshipping The Who and secretly earning money at a gay club, Ritchie is not your average Bronx bomber. This Spike Lee film, set in the sweltering summer of 1977, shows what happens when fear and paranoia turn friends into vigilantes and victims. Brody is part of a stunning montage, set to The Who's "Baba O'Riley," and a climax bringing the terroristic reign of the .44-caliber killer to a bloody, bitter end. R for strong graphic violence and sexuality, pervasive strong language and drug use.

"Angels in the Outfield" (1994) -- I'd forgotten just how syrupy this fantasy about a struggling baseball team, which gets some heavenly help visible only to a motherless boy, was. Brody plays Danny Hemmerling, a utility infielder known for his glove, not his bat, until an angel provides the muscle for a home run. He also has a telling exchange with the team manager (Danny Glover). Hemmerling thinks Glover was moved to tears by the national anthem and says, "I guess no matter how many times you hear that song played in a major league stadium on a warm afternoon, it's still emotionally evocative." To which the cranky manager snaps: "Drop dead. I got sunscreen in my eyes." PG for mild language, references to parental death.

"King of the Hill" (1993) -- A remarkable Jesse Bradford is Aaron Kurlander, an eighth-grader living with his family in a shabby St. Louis residential hotel in 1933. Also calling it home is a young hustler named Lester (Brody) who tries to help Aaron, left to fend for himself after his younger brother is sent to stay with a relative, his ailing mother goes to a sanitarium and his father takes an out-of-state job. At one point, the penniless Aaron is so desperate that he cuts pictures of food out of a magazine and eats them with a fork and knife. Lester is Aaron's co-conspirator as they caddy for some swells, break into the hotel's storage room, move a car so the cops and repo men can't find it, and simply try to stay alive during the Depression. PG-13 for mature themes.

Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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