ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

After 12 years in prison, Dom Hemingway (Jude Law) is finally a free man. Back on the streets of London, he’s getting what’s owed to him for keeping his mouth shut. His wife’s now dead from cancer and his daughter Evelyn (Emilia Clarke) is now estranged from him, so he’s looking to get quite a bit back.

With his devoted best friend Dickie (Richard E. Grant), Dom travels to the south of France to visit his crime boss Mr. Fontaine (Demián Bichir) and claim his reward. Dom gets his reward, but after his drunk and drug-fueled ego lands him, Dickie and Mr. Fontaine in a near-fatal car wreck, he decides his priority must change to reconnecting with his long-lost daughter.

While mostly writing and directing within TV, Richard Shepard did deliver the darkly funny and sharply written sleeper hit The Matador starring Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear back in 2005. Almost a decade later he returns again with Jude Law in Dom Hemingway, which is a much more cruder film than The Matador was, thanks in part to Law’s titular character. Underneath all the antics, though, lies a thin layer of heart.

There are very few acting talents out there that can deliver the most profane dialogue with such Shakespearean bravura. Jude Law is one of them and he makes this film, giving one of his most charismatic performances to date. Right from the start, his [Dom Hemingway](movie:683587) begins with a vainly crude, extended rant on how his little Dom just below his equator is so exquisite a painting of it should hang in the Louvre and it could save small, Somali children from starvation if able to, winning the “Nobel fucking Peace Prize” for doing so. If there’s any other performer out there daring enough to top an intro like this, good luck. It’s quite a jarring opening for a film, but that’s exactly what makes Dom who he is – a drunk, cocaine loving asshole. In the hands of a lesser performer, this could’ve been turned into an annoyingly unlikeable character. Law, though is talented enough (I know this ’cause Sean Penn was nice enough to remind us and Chris Rock of that fact at the ’05 Oscars) to keep those unlikeable traits, yet do so in a way that never takes us out of the film experience. Underneath the mask that is the loud talking, binge drinking and cocaine snorting is a man filled with regret over what he’s truly lost, fearing that by now it may be too late.

Dom didn’t wanna be a rat. That’s what mattered most to him, and he stood by that by taking quite a sacrifice for his team and serving 12 years in prison. He’s a loyal guy, that’s for sure, but he also winds up losing what should’ve mattered most to him. It takes some time before he truly realizes that with the help of “good luck muse” Melody (a small, yet cute performance from Kerry Condon), and we do see tiny traces of Dom’s humanity prior to that realization, but it’s the way his dual nature dukes it out ’til the end that makes him such an compelling character.

In a wonderful supporting performance, that’s only a flaw in that we don’t get enough of her, Emilia Clarke plays Dom’s estranged daughter. She’s reached the breaking point with her father, not wanting him to have anything to do with her or her child. In easily the most heartfelt scene of the movie, she explains her reasons to Dom. You can’t blame her in the slightest, but it’s also the turning point where we see the heart within Dom start to reveal itself. With a running time of only 90 minutes, I wanted more of that frayed relationship onscreen. That’s really the one downside of this film. Despite all the shamelessly entertaining aspects of Law’s performance beforehand, including a terrific safe-cracking attempt with some extremely high stakes and unexpected turns, it’s the moments between him and Clarke that really held my attention.

Also appearing here is Demian Bichir, once again (following his turn in Machete Kills) allowed to chew the scenery as Dom’s eccentric crime boss, and I’d be remiss not to mention the underrated and invaluable character actor Richard E. Grant, who’s such a complement next to Law in a dry and finely restrained supporting performance.

It’s a contrived scenario, for sure, that, while neither completely wrapped up or left open-ended, may have a conclusion too satisfying for some viewers. Jude Law’s audacious performance, a solid supporting cast and Richard Shepard’s crudely clever writing, though, takes a conventional plot and turns it into a briskly paced, entertaining film, both lewd and sweet, with Law effortlessly carrying it from start to finish.

Sean Penn would be so proud.

I give Dom Hemingway a B+ (★★★).

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