The film opens with Jude Law’s mutton-chopped grizzled character delivering an extensive ode of a monologue all about his cock. He’s looking right into the camera, but for a while it’s hard to know whom he is speaking to. Is it us? Is there somebody on screen we don’t see? Honestly it doesn’t really matter whom he’s speaking to. Dom Hemingway doesn’t care who’s listening. He just wants to talk.
Safecracker Dom Hemingway has just been released from jail after 12 years for keeping quiet and not ratting on his cohorts on a job. He sets out with his one-handed criminal buddy Dickie (Richard E. Grant) to get the money that’s owed him by Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir) and reconnect with Dom’s estranged daughter Evelyn (Emilia Clarke).
When you look as good as Jude Law does, making yourself look ugly is no easy feat. This might be the most committed role Jude Law has ever given, and might ever give. He completely throws himself into the monument to machismo that Dom is. Law is usually delegated to characters with a certain amount of suave and sophistication, and Dom is the complete opposite of all that. As he says at some point in the film, “My name’s Dom. It’s English for unlucky son of a bitch.” Physically and mentally he throws himself into Dom’s ego, and pulls off both the comedic and dramatic moments with great command. The film has its flaws, but none of them are a result of Law’s performance. Richard E. Grant is a delight as Dom’s right-hand (literally and figuratively) man Dickie. He retains such a posture throughout where all he has to do is show up and he’s comical.
Director Richard Shepard wants to indulge Dom’s ego. He let’s his shiny moments play out in slow motion. When things are going Dom’s way, strong and vibrant colors populate the screen. After Dom hits rock bottom, those colors are immediately absent. He separates the film into segments with their own titles, some of them working as a punchline.
The trouble with this film comes in the last half when the plot takes a turn for the sappy. We want Dom to become a better person and reconnect with his family. We want him to find luck again, as a character earlier in the film predicts he will, but at what cost? The film loses its fire when it shifts Dom’s focus. The same character we saw dry humping a safe to open it no longer has that insane drive to prove himself to the world. As he loses that drive, so does the film and it starts wandering aimlessly to find some sort of existential meaning it doesn’t need to succeed. Along the way it ends up dropping plotlines in order to have luck swing back to Dom. We want Dom to succeed, but we don’t want him to stop being Dom. I’m all for character transformations, but not when they derail the film. The moment he is tamed, the film becomes formulaic and wandering. We fall in love with the Dom who is all about excess and pride, but that Dom is only a faint glimmer by the end.