There is, perhaps, only so much to say about a movie that opens with a man delivering a soliloquy about his penis. When you first see the title character of "Dom Hemingway," a violent British comedy about a gangster who talks the hard-boiled talk with verve and gutter lyricism, he’s speaking and staring into the camera. His arms are stretched out to the side, Christlike, and while the camera doesn’t show the full monty, the shot is wide enough for you to see that Jude Law has packed on a few pounds to play this flamboyant tough guy and hasn’t taken a Gillette to his chest.
Dom’s words burble and gurgle musically with increased dramatic heat until you finally get enough of the big picture so that it’s clear he isn’t actually alone. He’s in prison, to begin with, and as he says, 12 years is a long time. He doesn’t stay there and is soon strolling into the story a free man, dandified in a double-breasted blue suit, violet shirt and the short, pointy boots of mods if not rockers. Law wears this look well, and with enthusiasm. There’s a lot going on in his face, with its riptides of extreme emotion and artfully manicured mutton chops, but much of the performance’s comedy and energy comes from the thrusting, centrifugal physicality that telegraphs Dom’s primitivism and will to dominate.
Come for the performance; stay for the performance. Because, to answer Peggy Lee’s lingering question, that’s all there is. Well, almost: There are also bright eye-popping colors, amusing lines and many clever production-design touches, like the large photographs of monkeys by Jill Greenberg that expressively loom on the walls while Dom unleashes one of his humorous, increasingly grinding rants. Monkey see; monkey yammer. By this point, Dom has hooked up with his best and apparently only friend, Dickie (the invaluable Richard E. Grant), and together they’ve gone to France to meet Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir, nicely restrained), the big boss for whom Dom took the fall and who now, all these years later, is ready to pay for services rendered.
Writer and director Richard Shepard makes the most of this French sojourn (with its presumptive tax incentives) and its visual pleasures, which Dom greedily takes in, from Mr. Fontaine’s prettily situated villa to Mr. Fontaine’s prettily styled ornament, Paolina (Madalina Ghenea). There, in between Dom’s tirades and Mr. Fontaine’s murmured assurances (and threats), bottles are uncorked, bras unfastened, appetites indulged. For some reason, Dom takes a stroll in the nude in an olive grove, allowing you to contemplate Law’s backside and Grant’s ability to keep a straight face. The two are deftly funny together, even if nothing they say sticks. In another scene, Shepard stages a nighttime car crash that unfolds in eye-catching slow motion, bodies and booze bottles floating.
"Dom Hemingway" is a bright, shiny bauble with next to no lasting power. The movie is fabulously tricked out with tasty people, cool costumes, artful scoops of pomaded hair and the kind of eyeglasses that somehow make the characters look stupider. (British screen eyewear, from Harry Palmer’s frames to George Smiley’s, constitutes an entire field of cinematic signification.) But the movie is all setup, and badly served by a sentimentalism that’s tipped as soon as Dom mentions his daughter, Evelyn (Emilia Clarke, Daenerys Targaryen on "Game of Thrones"), and the score starts gently weeping. Shepard has a great eye, but as in his earlier film "The Matador" — which features the unforgettable sight of Pierce Brosnan promenading in boots and tight black trunks — there’s only so much that chest hair can do.
Review by Manohla Dargis, New York Times