Movie review: “Dom Hemingway” is uneven, but Jude Law’s performance isn’t

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From the April 17, 2014 edition

If “Dom Hemingway” was a car, it would need to get its transmission fixed. It hums along for a while, but it’s clunky when it switches gears.

It’s a shame, too, because I was immensely enjoying its first half of fast-talking criminals before it tried to get more heartfelt without taking the time to develop the heart.

One thing I don’t have qualms with is Jude Law’s performance. This is one of those career kick-start performances we’ve seen from the likes of Matthew McConaughey and Robert Downey Jr.

Law plays the titular character, a safe-cracker who just served 12 years in prison because he wouldn’t testify against a crime boss.

When Dom gets out, he goes on an epic booze/drugs/women binge before he and his old pal Dickie (Richard E. Grant) head off to settle 12 years of debt with a crime boss (Demian Bichir).

When writer-director Richard Shepard has “Dom Hemingway” firing on all cylinders — that’s the last car reference, I promise — it’s a funny, fast-talking crime comedy with a heavy Anglo tilt. Think “Snatch.”

And Law dives in head first, reportedly gaining 30 pounds to give Dom some believable paunch (and a believable sense of boozy nihilism). Like McConaughey before him, Law finds new heights when he’s willing to leave his pretty-boy persona behind.

But with such a rollicking, energetic first half, Shepard takes an abrupt turn in the middle, shifting the focus to Dom seeking redemption with the daughter he left behind during his prison stint (Emilia Clarke of “Game of Thrones” fame).

Clarke is fine in a limited role, but the plot shift doesn’t do much to set up this relationship. And Dom’s change of heart only comes from hitting rock bottom.

When things settle back into the irreverent and manic events of the first half, we get a glimpse of what the movie could have been. And that’s a shame.

Law, on the other hand, continues to shine in the more heartfelt moments, even if the material isn’t up to snuff.

It’s a tale of two movies, but I almost like one enough to overlook the other.

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight