In the past few years Jude Law has gone meekly into middle-age. In "Anna Karenina" he was nearly unrecognizable as the Karenina’s stern husband - the embodiment of middle class morality; and in the current "The Great Budapest Hotel" he’s a reporter that does more listening than talking. But in "Dom Hemingway," the latest testosterone-driven British gangster movie, he’s a changed man: loud, loutish and most loquacious, and gives a performance that gives Jason Statham a run for his money.
Take, for instance, the film’s opening that has Law speaking directly to the camera in a hilarious aria about the beauty of his penis, which, he says, should be hanging in the Louvre. (Not his actual penis, but a painting of it.) His speech expands with effortless bravado, climaxing (literally) with a punchline that reveals when in prison Dom does what prisoners need to do.
With his paunch and receding hairline, Law not only embraces having turned forty, but also the archetypical contemporary British gangster made popular in Guy Ritchie’s films and their numerous brethren. He’s so comfortable in Dom Hemingway’s skin that he elevates this ramshackle story of a guy whose life is all but ruined because he can’t give up his macho facade. Law is vividly alive - like Brad Pitt in "Snatch" - and gives a terrific performance in what feels like a pilot to some snarky HBO series. Perhaps that is where Dom Hemingway will end up.
As a movie, you expect more, especially in this genre, than this character study and meditation on the nature of karma, which is pretty bad for Dom for the bulk of the movie. Or just perhaps you want more; either way, as written and directed by Richard Shepard, "Dom Hemingway" turns out to be a joke in search of a punchline. Still with his unbridled macho gusto, Law is great fun with whom to spend ninety minutes.
Shepard’s story has Hemingway (whose name could be an ironic comment on his famous, terse namesake) being released from prison after 12 years. He’s been sent up for a robbery; but instead of taking a deal that would have put him behind bars for two years, he protects a powerful mobster (Mr. Fontaine played by Demian Bichir) and serves a full sentence. While in prison his wife leaves him, then dies of cancer and he loses touch with his young daughter, who, now married, doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. Instead of attempting a reconciliation upon release, Hemingway savagely beats his wife’s second husband, then proceeds on a three-day sex and drug orgy paid for by Fontaine.
With his best friend Dickie (a sleazy lapdog played to perfection by Richard E. Grant), Hemingway heads to France to collect the money Fontaine owes him for his silence. In that role Bicher appears to have channeled the late Ricardo Montalbán in his droll impersonation of a sophisticated, if brutal Russian mobster - he’s smooth, but deadly; and these scenes bristle with a tension that, oddly enough, dissipates after a car accident nearly kills Dom and leads to his booty being stolen. As Dom attempts to pick up the pieces, so does the movie.
Shepherd slips into easy sentimentality and a bit of New Age hokum to tie the story together in the film’s last act. He also introduces a secondary character - a sleek club owner (a deadpan Jumayn Hunter) - with a long-standing grudge against Dom. This diversion is funny enough, but like most of the film, is simply that: "Dom Hemingway" is a caper comedy is search of a caper. Despite a wonderfully alive Jude Law, it drifts without much point. Nonetheless his sharp-edged characterization holds together his picaresque tale of a man on the point of losing his mojo. When he gets it back in the final scene, it only suggests a sequel is in order.