A version of this review appears in Friday’s Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman. 3 of 4 stars.
Literally framed in vivid red, the opening scenes of “Dom Hemingway” offer a clear indication of the outrageousness if not the emotion to come with writer/director Richard Shepard’s memorably blue and black comedy.
Watching a nearly unrecognizable Jude Law spew a poetic and profane speech about his manhood while standing stark naked in a prison cell is just the first shocking sequence in Shepard’s (“The Matador,” HBO’s “Girls”) comedic criminal character study.
Sporting a beer gut, mutton chops and yellowed gold teeth, Law gives a startingly larger-than-life but still bracingly grounded turn as Dom Hemingway, an amoral, motor-mouthed South London safecracker finishing up a 12-year sentence for a job gone wrong. Released from prison, the ex-con doesn’t even bother to change his outdated suit; he immediately seeks out and bloodies the seemingly good guy who married his now-dead ex-wife and raised his estranged daughter Evelyn (Emilia Clarke).
Regrets, Dom has a few, especially about the effect his confinement had on his family. He’s also got issues with anger, impulse control and priorities, so Step 2 of his post-prison life is seeking out his stalwart partner in crime Dickie (Richard E. Grant, excellent as usual) and heading to southern France for a meeting with their mysterious boss, Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir). Since Dom never ratted out the suave kingpin, he had to serve his entire sentence, so he’s feeling rather demanding about the kind of reward he expects in return. Booze, cocaine, hookers and a fat wad of cash aren’t enough for Dom: He wants Fontaine’s sexy girlfriend Paolina (Madalina Diana Ghenea), too.
Naturally, Dom’s big-mouthed, raging-bull antics get him into trouble, and through a series of unexpected and mesmerizing twists and turns, he winds up back in London. with a new motto – “A man with no options has all the options in the world” – and an even stronger compulsion to reconnect with his daughter and get to know his young grandson (Jordan A. Nash).
Give Shepard credit: In an era when moviegoers can’t help but know where most films are going, and how they’re going to end, the writer/director isn’t afraid to gleefully blast every expectation — along with every notion of good taste — into tiny smithereens. He doesn’t hang his comedic crime drama on a big heist, and rather than giving it a gritty and gray look, he bombards it with stylishly bright color. His Dom Hemingway has a heart, but you could hardly call it a heart of gold; the ex-con wants redemption as long as he doesn’t have to change too much — especially if it means watching his mouth.
For those who can tolerate the rampant profanity, Shepard’s scorching dialogue is the best part of his mad film. Dom’s threat to “gut you with a dull cheese knife and sing Gilbert and Sullivan while I do it” and Dickie’s quip “He was raised in a Russian orphanage and kills people for a living. Of course he has a well-stocked bar” are among the only quotable quotes suitable to print here, but the film is loaded with the crackling one-liners you won’t be hearing in any other screenplay.
Like the Dom Hemingway, the movie too often emphasizes antics over substance and doesn’t know when to shut up and quit while its ahead. But like the title character, you aren’t likely to forget it — and find yourself rooting for it against your better judgment.