Gangster movies live or die on the strength of colorful, larger-than-life characters. That must have been the guiding principle for perennially mild-mannered leading man Jude Law when he agreed to go against type and intentionally chew the scenery in the title role of a flamboyant safecracker in Dom Hemingway. Law presents an impossibly verbose ex-con whose only redeeming quality seems to be that he’s a little less horrifying than his fellow criminals. This presents a problem for both Law and the audience as the story moves along — there’s just no reason to stay with it apart from intermittently funny dialogue and the sheer audacity of Law’s performance. Wild fluctuations in tone are an issue from the movie’s first scene as director Richard Shepard (Matador) seems unsure about where to take his film. A few sequences, especially one involving a nonsensical bet with a former associate that may result in Hemingway literally losing his manhood, are difficult to watch. Shepard’s decision to take the movie vaguely into tearjerker territory seals the movie’s fate. But you’ve got to hand it to Jude Law — without his efforts, the film would have gone straight to video-on-demand.
Dom Hemingway opens today, Friday, April 18, at the Canal Place and Elmwood Palace theaters.