We meet master safecracker Dom Hemingway (Jude Law, beefed up and balding) naked, standing in a prison cell doorway, receiving sexual attention from another inmate. During this jailhouse power exchange, Dom motormouths the first of a film’s worth of ornate monologues, profane crime-speeches that feel like Guy Ritchie crashing an episode of Gilmore Girls. This particular rant is about the majesty of his own penis and it’s almost funny, much like Dom himself. Almost immediately afterward, Dom gets out of prison and, first order of business, sets about maiming the man who married his wife while he sat twelve years in the joint for not giving up his extremely dangerous boss (Demian Bechir, playing Russian, weirdly enough).
Over the next 100 minutes or so, writer-director Richard Shepard frames Law Danny Boyle-style, swooping and rushing and slow-motioning and hurling his loutish body through the air in car accidents set to operatic arias. Dom’s a sitcom Bronson, and his story of not-redemption is chopped into episodic chapters that, taken together, form a half-interesting character study of a criminal whose lack of self-awareness, cruelty, alcoholism, regret and cluelessness are matched only by his sheer dumb luck. As mishaps and bad decisions and manslaughters mount, the only shred of evidence that he's a human being and not a cartoon manufactured on a 3D printer is his mopey pining for the lost affection of his now-adult daughter (Emilia Clarke).
The downside to the glimmer of soul: it slows down Dom’s anti-goodness momentum. He’s an unapologetic bad man in a film that wants us to feel, at least when the “normalizing” influence of conventional family relationships rear their head, a little sorry for him. But it’s too little and much too late. This Hemingway – the purple opposite of his literary namesake – needs to be back behind bars, incapable of interfering with any more outside lives. His journey is a picaresque in search of a point.
Good for Law, though. His may be a copycat character here, but the actor needed him. He’s talented enough for better than he’s been given for most of his career, the fate of every too-handsome man in the movies. With Dom, Law gets to go big and wild and dip his feet into the character actor pool even if the film isn’t fully worth his time. Now middle-aged and letting the hair go, it’s clear he wants to stay put and get some interesting work accomplished. Now if only Matthew McConaughey would quit hogging all the good roles.