Listicle

5 Underappreciated Jude Law Performances

02 Apr 2022 | 6 MINS READ
Alasdair Bayman

Since breaking onto the scene in the mid-1990s, Jude Law has proven to be a chameleonic talent, able to showcase his magnetic sex appeal, then peel it back to reveal a darkness lurking beneath. He has appeared in some of Hollywood’s biggest film franchises; collaborated with revered directors including Steven Soderbergh, Wes Anderson and David Cronenberg; and become the unlikely face of Christmas thanks to his endearing role in Nancy Meyers’ modern classic The Holiday (2006). Ahead of his latest outing as a young Albus Dumbledore in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, we’re looking back at five of Law’s most underrated performances.  

Vox Lux (2018)

Starring Raffey Cassidy and Natalie Portman as the damaged pop star Celeste (in her teens and in her thirties), Brady Corbet’s glittering diptych Vox Lux, is a kaleidoscopic inspection of fame, fortune and pop culture. Law arrives in the film’s second half, portraying Celeste’s gruff manager as equal parts sleazy and conniving, clothed in tacky beige turtlenecks and matching bomber jackets. He fully commits to the character’s thick New Jersey accent, which would not be out of place in The Sopranos. In each interaction with Portman, Law carefully telegraphs his performance so he seems as lost in the allure of celebrity as Celeste, and both characters escape its burden through heavy drug use. Bolstered by Law’s compelling turn, Vox Lux offers a scathing reflection on corporate greed, addiction and self-destruction. 

eXistenZ (1999)

Law made his first foray into auteur cinema with eXistenZ, David Cronenberg’s postmodern meditation on gaming culture, which is interwoven with the director’s signature body horror. Law plays Ted Pikul, a gaming-company trainee who is tasked with protecting one of the business’ most successful designers (Jennifer Jason Leigh). The role consciously toys with Law’s appearance, casting his youthful innocence against a corrupt world of gore, flesh and blood. As his surroundings become more grotesque, so too does Pikul, and the actor effortlessly shifts from caring to violent, collected to unhinged. In one of the film’s most distributing scenes, Law throws himself into eating the ‘special’ at a Chinese restaurant, a monstrous portion of mutated frog parts, and is seen gamely picking out the animal’s bones. Throughout eXistenZ, Law blurs the lines between reality and the horrors of the human mind with his riveting performance. 

Wilde (1997)

Wilde is a sumptuous period piece that follows the later life of Stephen Fry’s titular poet and playwright as he falls in love with the passionate, bright-eyed Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas (Law) who channels all the hedonism of Wilde’s creation Dorian Gray. In this early role, Law is charming, witty and seductive, making him the ideal love interest for Wilde. He also subtly unearths the character’s dubious ulterior motives, showing how Bosie used Wilde’s fame to elevate his own social status. Law also characterises Bosie as deeply angry because of his father, the Marquess of Queensberry (Tom Wilkson), who, in accordance with the intolerant society he lives in, does not abide his son’s homosexuality. Bosie is an enticing figure in Wilde thanks to Law’s charisma. 

Side Effects (2013)

Arriving just 12 months after the beloved Magic Mike, the ever prolific Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects casts Law as Dr. Banks, a psychiatrist who finds himself caught in a very public legal battle when he prescribes an experimental antidepressant to a young woman (Rooney Mara) with severe consequences. Charismatic and assertive, his character becomes wickedly cunning when backed into a corner, and Law is captivating in his moral dubiousness. Consumed by the case, Dr. Banks finds that his life slowly unravels as he becomes submerged in corporate conspiracies and the American criminal-justice system. Law captures this angsty paranoia, while also demonstrating Banks’ care and courage. 

The Nest (2020)

Law plays the slippery, boastful businessman Rory in Sean Durkin’s unsettling, 1980s-set film The Nest, which analyses the effects of the braggart’s capitalist greed on his weary family, who he relocates from the US to a hilariously huge Tudor house in Surrey to boost their social status. Law captures Rory’s cocksure entrepreneurial spirit, as well as his fragility: this is a man who has been escaping his East End working-class roots in commercial America. Behind the bravado, Rory simply wants to make those around him happy with material wealth that he never had in his youth. Law’s overconfidence juxtaposes with Carrie Coon’s nervous, skittish turn as his long-suffering American wife. A gem of contemporary cinema, The Nest illustrates how maintaining appearances can harm those we hold most dear.

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Alasdair Bayman

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