Jude Law looks strikingly different in the opening shot of Dom Hemingway — thicker, older, burlier, with a receding hairline and noticeable wrinkles that didn’t seem to be there last time we saw him in a movie. He’s also in the middle of an act that would never have made it into his remake of Alfie.
The actor is pulling off a radical change of pace in writer-director Richard Shepard’s dark comedy. Like Ben Kingsley did in Sexy Beast, Law transforms himself as a profane, violent man, a short-tempered safecracker who has just served 12 years in jail instead of ratting out his fellow criminals and now wants to be rewarded for his loyalty — handsomely.
Patience is not his strong suit, either. Pairing up with his former partner (Richard E. Grant), who has lost a hand since Dom last saw him, the pair pay a visit to the crime boss (Demian Bichir) for whom Dom took the fall.
But prison has made him coarse and rude. Dom has forgotten how people behave in the real world — he acts like he’s still behind bars, having to prove himself constantly, as if he had never learned any sort of manners and has to take whatever he wants. To say his behavior causes problems does not begin to describe the mayhem that ensues.
Dom Hemingway is often viciously funny in unexpected ways, and every time you think the movie has run out of steam, Shepard spins things in a new direction, keeping the energy from flagging (including one of the most startling car crashes I’ve ever seen in a film). The film is stylish and beautiful to look at, and Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke does well with the supporting role of Dom’s estranged daughter, who is now married and wants nothing to do with him. Her plotline is dull, but seeing Clarke without dragons in tow is nice.
But the movie is ultimately Law’s show: The actor, known for being so elegant and suave, reveals a whole new dimension here, radiating genuine menace and danger. This isn’t a stunt performance or an attempt to break out of a stereotype. Law, who often addresses the camera (just like he did in Alfie), shows a side of himself you’ve never seen before, and you probably wouldn’t want to see again. No one wants to make this Dom angry.
Cast: Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir, Emilia Clarke, Kerry Condon.
Writer-director: Richard Shepard.
A Fox Searchlight Pictures release. Running time: 93 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, sexual situations, nudity, drugs and a host of other bad things. Playing at area theaters.