Law’s bravura per­for­mance a foul-mouthed tour de force

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Michael O’Sul­li­van

THE ti­tle char­ac­ter of Dom Hem­ing­way is a Cock­ney safe­cracker, played with Ra­belaisian gusto by Jude Law. His per­for­mance — which starts at 11 and stays there — may well go down in his­tory as one of the most colourful low-lifes ever com­mit­ted to film.

It is doubt­ful that the movie it­self will be so fondly re­mem­bered. The story opens with a bang, as we watch Dom, in prison, be­ing sex­u­ally ser­viced by a fel­low in­mate. Ad­dress­ing the au­di­ence, Law pro­ceeds to deliver a long mono­logue — the sub­ject of which is the body part just off-cam­era — that is so si­mul­ta­ne­ously foul-mouthed and sil­ver­tongued that it beg­gars de­scrip­tion. By turns Shake­spearean and sur­real, it’s a funny and filthy tour de force. But it also serves a pre-emp­tive pur­pose. By get­ting that scene out of the way early, the film re­moves all doubt that the man we are about to spend the next 90 min­utes with — whose very name sug­gests a pedigree both boor­ish and lit­er­ary — is equal parts poet and lug nut. Whether he’s lik­able is an­other mat­ter. In truth, it’s kind of hard to hate the guy, de­spite his grotesque­ness. Mostly, that’s thanks to Law, whose good looks and charm go a long way to se­duce us. “What can I say?” says Dom, in a thick ac­cent made more im­pen­e­tra­ble by the ever-present cig­a­rette hang­ing from his lip, “I’m a hand­some (ex­ple­tive).” That’s cer­tainly true. But Dom also makes for a wildly en­ter­tain­ing tour guide to the trou­ble that seems to fol­low him like a cloud. Al­though things ini­tially are look­ing up for him, par­tic­u­larly af­ter that amaz­ing first scene, they quickly take a nose dive. Sure, he’s re­leased from prison — where­upon he’s re­warded with a pile of cash by the mob­ster he took the fall for (Demian Bichir) — but then, al­most im­me­di­ately, he’s in a hor­rific car ac­ci­dent. The money is stolen, he can barely walk and the daugh­ter he aban­doned 12 years ago when he was sent to prison (Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones) wisely wants noth­ing to do with her fa­ther’s at­tempt at a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. Mak­ing mat­ters worse is the fact that the son of a for­mer ri­val (Ju­mayn Hunter) wants to cas­trate Dom for killing his cat when he was lit­tle. “Mis­for­tune be­fell me” is how Dom, in a fit of rare un­der­state­ment, ex­plains his propen­sity for screw­ing up. Note: It’s never, ever his fault.

If all this seems a bit pre­cious, it is. Dom’s best friend, Dickie (Richard E. Grant), is a wag­gish toff with a pros­thetic hand and yel­low-tinted avi­a­tor shades. Ob­serv­ing ev­ery­thing with a sense of de­tached dis­ap­proval mixed with se­cret ad­mi­ra­tion, Dickie is a stand-in for us. But the char­ac­ter feels less hu­man than an ex­am­ple of screen­writ­ing ar­ti­fice. An­other char­ac­ter (Kerry Condon), whose life Dom saves in a lapse of un­selfish­ness, pops up late in the film like an an­gel, de­liv­er­ing just the dose of luck that Dom — as well as Dom Hem­ing­way — needs. Though writer-di­rec­tor Richard Shep­ard ( The Mata­dor) knows how to spin a yarn about the vi­cis­si­tudes of fate, Dom’s ad­ven­tures make for a pretty thin gar­ment in which to clothe such an out­size an­ti­hero. Shep­ard tries to add heft to the light­weight tale by in­tro­duc­ing a thread about Dom try­ing to re­pair his re­la­tion­ship with his daugh­ter. Rather than hu­man­iz­ing him, how­ever, Dom’s ef­forts to play Daddy — and to con­vince us that he has a heart — feel dic­tated by mar­ket re­search, not char­ac­ter. You may find yourself watch­ing these ex­er­tions with more im­pa­tience than skep­ti­cism. The good Dom may be nec­es­sary, from a story point of view. But the bad one is more fun.

FOX SEARCHLIGHT

Jude Law, left, and Richard E. Grant are up to no good.

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