Reviewer’s Rating: ★★
British writer-director Guy Ritchie made a nice career for himself, beginning with a pair of gangster movies, 1999’s “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” and 2001’s Brad Pitt-featuring “Snatch.”
Ritchie more recently directed a pair of big-budget Hollywood films, “Sherlock Holmes” and “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” but he’ll likely always be identified with gritty crime flicks filled with lowlifes of the kind that populate “Dom Hemingway.”
In “Dom Hemingway,” Jude Law — the British actor who plays Dr. Watson to Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes in Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” movies — plays a safecracker who’s just been sprung from 12 years in prison. “Dom Hemingway” is writer-director Richard Shepard’s stab at doing a Guy Ritchie movie. A none-too-successful attempt it is.
Law’s prolifically verbal, frequently desperate and angry Dom begins the film with a profane, camera in his face soliloquy. But the quantity of words spoken by the actor, and his high-spirited delivery of the lines, do not good writing make. Scene after scene, Law works up a sweat, struggling to get Dom across. With so little to build on, it’s a losing battle.
Ostensibly, “Dom Hemingway” is a redemption tale laced with comedy. But there’s not much effective comedy in the film. There’s even less redemption. The turn-over-a-new leaf angle, too, coming late in a story that spends so much time with debauchery and Ritchie-style crime scenarios and Quentin Tarantino-imitation speeches, is a bait-and-switch that summons no emotion or closure.
Dom’s first post-prison mission is to beat the daylights out of the innocent man who married the safecracker’s late wife while old Dom was behind bars. And then he meets his best friend, Dickie Black, at a pub. Co-starring as Dickie, Richard E. Grant gives a straight man performance that’s futile because Law’s Dom is never funny.
Dom next engages in a three-day binge of booze, drugs and ladies for hire. Finally, Dom and Dickie set out on the mission the ex-con desperately wants to accomplish. It’s on to France, where Dom and Dickie visit Mr. Fontaine, the crime boss for whom Dom took the fall, sacrificing 12 years of his life.
Demian Bichir plays Mr. Fontaine, a big-time Russian gangster who, as Dickie pointedly tells loose-cannon Dom, is the most dangerous man in Europe. In the context of this movie, however, the suave Fontaine is the most charming character on the screen.
Despite the forced energy writer-director Shepard and his cast whip up, and the film’s volume, most of which comes out of Law’s mouth, Dom’s series of misadventures offer little in the way of characterization, comedy or drama.
Emilia Clarke of “Games of Thrones” fame arrives late in the story as Dom’s grown-up daughter. It’s just another unrewarding, false development in a Ritchie knockoff that never cracks whatever promise the story’s characters and situations may have held.