It’s been nine years since writer/director Richard Shepard burst onto the scene with the hugely entertaining black comedy “The Madator,” and with the exception of his underseen 2007 follow-up (“The Hunting Party”), he’s spent most of that time as a hired gun for various TV shows. But he’s finally back with a new movie featuring a character that could rival Jonathan Glazer’s “Sexy Beast” for the title of Most Polarizing British Gangster, which is quite the feat considering that the British crime genre is jam-packed with loud, brash and over-the-top personalities. Apart from Ben Kingsley’s Don Logan, however, none come even close to being as memorable as the title character of Shepard’s latest film, which is pretty much the only reason why it works at all.
Dom Hemingway (Jude Law) is an expert safecracker who has spent the last 12 years serving a prison sentence after refusing to rat out his boss, Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir). And now that he’s finally a free man, Dom wants what is rightfully owed to him, so he heads to Mr. Fontaine’s estate in the French countryside with his best friend Dickie (Richard E. Grant) to collect his reward for keeping his mouth shut all those years. But after a strange chain of events leaves Dom penniless mere hours after he’s gifted a small fortune, he heads back to London in an attempt to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Emilia Clarke), who wants nothing to do with him.
Jude Law is one of the most underrated actors in the business, and though it’s been awhile since he’s had a part to really sink his teeth into, he may have found the role of a lifetime with Dom Hemingway – a crude and bombastic hothead who sensationalizes everything with so much flair that you’d think he was reciting Shakespeare. He’s first introduced delivering a flamboyant monologue directed at the audience about the magnificence of his manhood, and Law performs the riotous speech with such passion and conviction that you immediately know what kind of guy Dom Hemingway is, or at least aspires to be. It’s just too bad that the film isn’t as amusing as its main character, because while Law is absolutely brilliant as Dom Hemingway, the movie is an uneven mess that doesn’t really go anywhere.
Shepard’s script is packed with some hilariously colorful dialogue, but it lacks anything resembling a plot. The film is basically just a series of misadventures designed to showcase its motor-mouthed antihero doing what he does best: behaving badly. Unfortunately, even that starts to get repetitive by the hour mark, at which point not even Law can save the movie from its own aimlessness. Part of the problem is that there’s not much to appreciate beyond the actor’s dynamic performance. Richard E. Grant earns some laughs as Dom’s loyal friend, but the rest of the cast is wasted in smaller roles, particularly Emilia Clarke, who doesn’t get a chance to do very much with her character. The whole daughter subplot feels like it’s been tacked on to prevent Dom from coming across like a complete prick, but Shepard shouldn’t need to apologize for what makes the character so entertaining, because without him (and Jude Law in the role), “Dom Hemingway” would be as forgettable as it is flawed.