A temperamental, egotistical, British ex-con with a soft side for the daughter he left behind, Jude Law is magnetic as the title character in “Dom Hemingway,” an amusing tale of vengeance, debauchery and redemption told stylishly by writer-director Richard Shepard.
Dom is introduced shirtless while delivering a verbose rant about his genitalia, which he likens to titanium, a Renoir or Picasso painting, a Nobel Prize winner, a cheetah, lightning and more. Few outrageous comparisons are spared.
His speech could be seen as a pathetic attempt at a pick-up technique, except he’s so puffed up. It’s clear he could care less whether anyone agrees with him or not — and his delusion is hilarious. His monologue sets the outlandish tone for the film, where Dom, a safecracker, believes he’s irresistible and indestructible.
Fresh out of prison after serving 12 years, so reads the first of many chapter cards, Dom is more than ready to make up for lost time. After binging on booze, cocaine and hookers, he and his partner-in-crime, Dickie Black (an amusingly dry Richard E. Grant), head to the lavish home of his boss, Mr. Fontaine (the equally charming and ruthless Demian Bichir). Dom refused to rat out the crime boss and he’s come to collect for his good deed. But before he can walk away with his hefty gift, a brush with death — effectively displayed in slow motion — leaves him empty-handed.
Broke, bloody and liquored up, Dom shows up at his daughter’s doorstep hoping she’ll welcome him with open arms. But Evelyn (Emilia Clarke of “Game of Thrones” as a redhead), now living with her significant other and their son, is less than impressed with her father. And so begins his quest to win back her affection, while dipping back into a life of crime to try to make a bit of change. Luckily, he’s still an expert when it comes to opening safes.
Dom is one of Law’s richest roles yet. He packed on an extra 20 pounds and rocked thick lamb-chop sideburns for this one. He’s brazenly comical, absurdly grimy and believably brawny. But at times, his Dom is ridiculously unsympathetic. We’re with him when he bloodies the face of a man who romanced his wife during his jail sentence. But when we discover that man cared for her as she died of cancer, it’s impossible to continue to applaud his assault.
As Dom is unable to piece his life back together, especially where Evelyn is concerned, his snarling arrogance subsides and he begins to succeed at getting us to feel sorry for him. We also take cues from his adorable grandson (Jordan A. Nash), who seems content just sitting next to Dom.
The same writer-director behind the crime comedy “The Matador,” Shepard writes with rousing wit, but occasional scenes tend to drag and feel excessive. Still, he’s at his best when giving Dom lines like, “I only use a gun to hold up a place.Or threaten someone.Or rob ‘em.Or pistol whip ‘em.Or scare ‘em. But no, no hunting.”
It’s the film’s humor that also makes Dom likable. Many of the blows to his ego are due to his droll naivety. But it’s a good look for Law, who checks his pretty boy image at the door to give one of his grittiest performances yet.
“Dom Hemingway,” a Fox Searchlight Pictures release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sexual content, nudity, pervasive language, some violence and drug use.” Running time: 93 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
MPAA definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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