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REVIEW: 'Dom Hemingway' ★★ 1/2

Jude Law plays bad, to good effect

Michael Phillips

Talking Pictures

1:13 PM EDT, April 10, 2014

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Quiet nobility is all very well, but what actor doesn't relish a good bad boy now and then?

In "Dom Hemingway," a facile, Guy Ritchie-esque crime jape, Jude Law goes to town, dines out on the scenery, spits out the scenery and then chews it up again as a London safecracker of insatiable appetites and Olympian self-regard.

Writer-director Richard Shepard ("The Matador") introduces Dom in prison, near the end of a 12-year sentence. In a single unbroken take, we see Law monologuing like mad about the glories of his sexual prowess, while a fellow inmate sits below him, discreetly just out of camera range. Shepard writes dialogue intended to be noticed, even when it's not necessarily moving the narrative forward or convincing anybody that it resembles realistic human speech. It's heightened and stylized, and Law is both a superb technical actor and nervy showboater.

It's odd to think of him in a rageful, sociopathic role more easily associated with, say, Tom Hardy. Once out of prison — he took the fall for his underworld employer, a Russian assassin played by Demian Bichir — Dom is hellbent on settling old scores. Meeting up with a friend and colleague, played by Richard E. Grant, Dom is whisked by train to the south of France, where Bichir's Mr. Big resides in a villa and awaits his minions. Dom has a monetary reward coming to him for his jail time, but after a cocaine-fueled night of debauchery and high-risk hilltop driving, a terrible accident (played for laughs) ensues, and Dom's fortunes are temporarily scrambled.

Visually, the film is as loud as Law's performance. Giles Nuttgens' cinematography and the production design by Laurence Dorman favor deeply saturated colors, heavy on the blood red. Getting the worst of Dom's excesses out of the way in its first half, "Dom Hemingway" follows the increasingly sentimental story of how this man reconnects with his now-grown daughter (Emilia Clarke of "Game of Thrones") and meets the grandson he never knew he had.

Recalling the plays and screenplays of Martin McDonagh and John Michael McDonagh, Shepard favors a sadistic sense of humor. The self-consciousness of Dom, pure id, may be deliberate, but it has its drawbacks; each new aria delivered by Law concerning the aftereffects of a hangover, for example, or his latest, cold-blooded, sickeningly detailed threat of violence, has a run-on tendency. The material, limited payoff; the performer at the center, never less than arresting.

mjphillips@tribune.com

"Dom Hemingway" - 2 1/2 stars

MPAA rating: R (for sexual content, nudity, pervasive language, some violence, and drug use)

Running time: 1:33

Opens: Friday