Dom Hemingway opens with an extended (snicker) shot of a bare-chested and beefy Jude Law delivering an equally extended (snicker) panegyric on his penis. An encomium for his erection. A tribute to his tallywacker. On and on it goes, a masterwork of self-praise, a wonderwork of self-esteem, an egotistical marvel made all the more profound when we realize that, while he’s looking right at us, he’s got his mind on his member and his member on his mind. All that verbal dexterity is being deployed in an effort to get off. (Prison does have a way of necessitating invention.) This is your hero, moviegoers: Dom Hemingway, a petty crook who talks well above his intellectual weight class. (The lyrical gangster!) A foxy grandpa about to get sprung after 12 years inside, eager to get paid for keeping his mouth shut. And an impulsive drunk out to savage the guy who married his ex-wife and nursed her through her terminal cancer (and who raised his daughter like she was his own). Charming, no?
But, of course, that’s the fun of it — it is kind of charming. Because Dom isn’t evil, not wicked, not the kind of guy who enjoys seeing other people suffer. He’s just a gigantic child, an appealing mass of appetites who can’t abide not getting his way. Law positively luxuriates in the role, preening and pontificating and daring you to side with the Other People, the decent or indecent folks who find themselves in Hemingway’s way. It doesn’t matter if it’s a ruthless Russian gangster, the son of an old enemy, or his own estranged child — if they don’t want to give Dom what he wants, they’re the ones at fault. Most of the time, anyway.
The story by writer-director Richard Shepard (The Matador) finds a way to bring Dom to a new, possibly more grown-up place and has some symbolic fun in the process. (The great moment of crisis arises from a very direct threat to the aforementioned appendage.) Its account of what makes a man a man and the pleasures and pains of responsible adulthood is not especially profound, but then, you’re not here for the profundity. You’re here for Dom Hemingway: his excellent facial hair, his bad-boy swagger, and his hidden, hurting heart.