Thursday, April 17, 2014

Jude Law goes gangster

He's brutal and vulgar, but he fills the film.
In playing a low-level thug desperately trying to find his footing after a 12-year-stint in prison, Jude Law pulls out every stop he can find.

Law's Dom Hemingway -- the title character of director Richard Shepard's foray into the world of cockney criminals -- gives us a main character who's mesmerizingly vulgar.

Dom's a brutal man without impulse control, a stocky, angry mess of a fellow who refused to rat out his partners in crime while in prison.

For that, Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir) -- the crime czar who profited from Dom's silence -- has a debt to pay. So Dom and his buddy Dickie (Richard E. Grant) travel to the south of France to visit Mr. Fontaine's estate and collect Dom's reward.

One assumes that Shepard, who splashes title cards over bright red screens and adds other pop-oriented flourishes, gave Law all the room he needed to find his inner beast.

Law obliged by putting as much physicality into the role as possible. When Dom gets out of prison, he looks as if he's going to burst the seams of his dated double-breasted blue suit.

Dom's post-prison life isn't easy. He runs into a problem with Mr. Fontaine's larcenous lover (Madalina Diana Ghenea).

When he returns to London, a thug threatens to slice off his ... well ... you know. I suppose it's appropriate since the priapic Dom opens the movie with a soaring, ferocious monologue proclaiming the glories of his penis.

For all his bravado, Dom's a magnate for bad luck. He probably doesn't expect to be greeted warmly when he tries to reunite with the daughter (Emilia Clarke) who grew up without him. Clarke's Evelyn resents Dom deeply -- and probably justifiably.

By the time, Dom locates Evelyn, she's living with a Senegalese musician with whom she's had a son.

In trying for too much (the movie's episodic story elements create a cascading slice of contemporary British life), Shepard may have achieved too little. Dom Hemingway becomes the movie's story, a pretty big burden for any character -- even one as out-sized as Dom.

A scattershot collection of low-life bits and pieces, Dom Hemingway mellows with the unfortunate emergence of some late-picture sentimentality.

Still, Law's performance has too much raw energy to ignore: He's playing a man who doesn't know whether there's anything about himself that's worth salvaging. Dom rails at others, at an uncaring universe and perhaps at himself.

If Dom has any charm, it derives from his naive determination not to let the universe win.

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