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Safe Words

Jude Law mesmerizes as criminal Dom Hemingway.



Dom Hemingway begins with an extended monologue about the "exquisite" handsomeness of a certain man's penis: The penis belongs to Dom Hemingway; the soliloquist is Dom Hemingway. The convicted safecracker is receiving oral sex from a fellow prisoner, and, as the description goes on and on, with references to Picasso and whatnot, enjoyment comes not from the scenario but from the delight actor Jude Law takes in reading those lines and playing so far against type. He's a mutton-chopped brute, a trash poet who likes the way words feel in his mouth, who doesn't have a thought that doesn't pass through his lips, who tries out different ways of saying things as if listening for the tumblers to fall into the correct place, who narrates as if David Mamet or the Coen Brothers were crammed in his skull feeding him lines.

So goes the vulgar charm of Dom Hemingway. Hemingway is released from prison — the yegg served time but never ratted out his friends — and takes his freedom like he's been fired out of a cannon. He's looking for a man and won't even take the time to stop for traffic to find him, which he does promptly, beats the hell out of the guy for having stolen his "betroved," and then hits a pub because he fancies a pint. Law/Hemingway is mesmerizing.

Hemingway reunites with an old accomplice, Dickie Black (Richard E. Grant), who gets him drunk and laid. Successfully hungover, which Hemingway describes as "fucking insurgents inside my brain, Cossacks sodomizing my cranium," he rendezvous with Mr. Fontaine (Demián Bichir), the man who hired Hemingway when he took the fall 12 years before. Hemingway is hoping he gets a very generous reward for doing right by Fontaine; Dickie assures Hemingway he will, but the look on Dickie's face suggests Fontaine may kill them both to save the dime or might lowball Hemingway and things could get ugly.

The second act of the film takes place over the weekend in the European countryside among the three reunited thieves. Each character is absurdly lurid in some way: Hemingway has his thing going on; Dickie has a prosthetic hand in a black glove and kind of looks like an aging but cautious hedonist, the way Grant naturally does; and Fontaine was raised in a Russian orphanage, kills people for a living ("one of the most dangerous men in Europe"), and has a fatally beautiful mistress (Mădălina Diana Ghenea). You're not sure if Hemingway will survive the weekend or what/who will kill him if he doesn't.

The film is more visually stylish than is necessary, which is always appreciated. Director (and writer) Richard Shepard and cinematographer Giles Nuttgens do interesting things with color gels, and the set design is bold. The script is a little off square, though. A subplot with Dom's daughter (Emilia Clarke) and grandson (Jordan A. Nash) is sympathetic but requires more flesh, and another subplot with a gangster who needs a safe broken into (Jumayn Hunter) goes nowhere fast. Dom Hemingway doesn't quite hold up favorably to recent films it will draw comparisons to, such as Layer Cake and Sexy Beast.

Law's personal satisfaction only takes the audience so far, and the film can't quite sustain the breakneck fun. But it sure as hell tries.

Dom Hemingway

Opens Friday, May 2nd

Studio on the Square

Related Film

Dom Hemingway

Official Site:

Director: Richard Shepard

Writer: Richard Shepard

Cast: Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Birchir, Emilia Clarke, Jordan A. Nash, Jumayn Hunter, Madalina Diana Ghenea, Kerry Condon, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Hannah Blamires

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