Nick Wall

Dom Hemingway

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April 17, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT

If ever there were an actor ripe to ”McConaughnesize” his career, it’s Jude Law — and guess what, he has done it, spectacularly, in Dom Hemingway. The title rogue is one of those seething low-rent blokes of an East End gangster whom we now think of as coming out of a Guy Ritchie film. It’s a kick to see Law, who normally plays more civilized types, get his underworld thug on by embracing the role of a vicious Cockney criminal with greased-back hair, a double-muttonchop beard, and a glittery-eyed leer of sexual hunger. (In the outrageous opening scene, he growls out a tribute to his manhood while being serviced in a prison shower.) Yet getting cast against type will take an actor only so far. The real amazement of Dom Hemingway is that, as written and directed by Richard Shepard, the movie picks up this snarling hooligan and treats him like a character out of Shakespeare.

Dom’s gutter eloquence has a touch of the poetic, and he’s a beast with a beating heart. A notorious safecracker, he has just served 12 years after refusing to rat on his boss, and he now wants his reward. So after a three-day bender of hookers and cocaine, he teams up with his old crony Dickie (Richard E. Grant, playing the straight man for once) and drives up to the villa of the sinister Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir), who pays his debt to Dom by gifting him with nearly a million pounds. But then, thanks to more drugs and a car accident, Dom loses the money, and this sets up the film’s ingeniously karmic, yin-and-yang version of a crime-caper plot. As Dom attempts to reconnect with his daughter (Emilia Clarke), his luck keeps jerking back and forth, and the movie whiplashes between freedom and violent desperation, with each twist really asking, Does Dom deserve to get what he wants? Law makes Dom a brilliant contradiction. He’s a piece of pond scum with a sense of honor, a bad man and a good man. And the question of which side will rule turns Dom Hemingway into the most mesmerizing drama of British lowlifery since Sexy Beast. A

Dom Hemingway

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Dom Hemingway

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