Jude Law is very entertaining as the ex-con and safecracker Dom Hemingway. He’s thoroughly believable as he brings out the various facets of the character: desperate convict, jealous ex-con, deliriously happy free man, coke-snorting lunatic, violent psychopath, cocky criminal, absolute jerk and defeated widower-father. (The character’s name is so perfectly outrageous that it transcends self-parody.) It would have been more effective—and affecting—if only the film, Dom Hemingway, didn’t make the audience feel like the titular character was punching them, personally, in the face for 90 minutes.
That in-your-face effect is a feature, not a bug, of writer-director Richard Shepard’s approach. The story is delivered in a start-and-stop series of scenes that play a bit like blackout sketches. The plus side is the constant, roller coaster-esque feelings of surprise: a car wreck follows a vicious beating which follows wild drug use and so on, none of which the audience sees coming. The downside is that too much info is left out, and too many questionable loose ends remain. For example, not one, but two crime kingpins are violently killed without any repercussions at all; you have to be Quentin Tarantino to get away with that kind of nonsense.
The character is a volcano in a near-constant state of eruption. In the opening scene, Dom gives an outrageous soliloquy on the many virtues of his penis while receiving a prison blow job. (He’s as boring on the subject as you’d expect.) The rest of the action follows in the same spirit when Dom is released. He sets out to settle old scores with his former partners in crime, and tries to make things right in his personal life. The fact that Dom is so spectacularly wrong about almost everything only ratchets up the film’s sense of desperation.
The filmmaker does give us an occasional break from the emotional and physical violence; we’re so happy to latch on to these moments that we happily accept characters who are as wildly idealized as Dom and his cohorts are excessively debased. (It’s apt when the Pixies’ “Debaser” plays over the final scene.)
Still, attention must be paid to Law’s terrific performance, and to savvy supporting players Richard E. Grant (as Dom’s deadpan partner in crime) and Demian Bichir (as a Russian hood). They take some of the sting out of the filmmaker’s abusive strategy.