The British crime caper is one of my favorite sub-genres because the stories are always chock full of the most colorful, wonderfully drawn characters. Guy Richie has made an entire career out of making such films, and Matthew Vaughn did a nice job with Layer Cake (as well as producing some of Richie's movies). Show me a lowlife criminal with a Cockney accent and you've got my full attention. Dom Hemingway certainly does that, and Jude Law, as the titular character, gives the best performance of his career.
Dom Hemingway is a safe cracker who refused to rat out his boss, Russian gangster Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir) after a job went sour. He's spent the last twelve years behind bars, and at the beginning of the film he is about to be released. After a whirlwind three day bender filled with hookers and cocaine provided by his friend Dickie (Richard E. Grant), Dom must travel to France to visit Fontaine on his sprawling estate, hopefully for a reward for his silence and time behind bars. He also hopes to reconnect with his daughter Evie (Emilia Clarke) who wants nothing to do with the absent father she barely remembers.
This is merely the setup for a movie that continually surprised me with the direction it took. I won't dare spoil what happens when Dom and Dickie visit Fontaine in France, but suffice it to say that Dom's inability to exhibit any self control lands him in some difficult situations. The script by director Richard Shepard is full of twists, but the story unfolds completely dependent on the character of Dom Hemingway, one of the most dynamic and fully realized characters I've seen on screen in a long time.
This is due in large part to Jude Law's performance. I risk spiraling down into a whirlpool of hyperbole, but he is simply astounding from start to finish. The film opens with Dom expounding poetically and vulgarly on the virtues of that part of his anatomy that requires him to frequently use a word that rhymes with "block." The punchline of this scene represented one of many laugh out moments in the film, though it is certainly not a comedy. Dom is often very funny, because even though almost every sentence he utters is irredeemably crass, he is also fiercely intelligent and complex, and the movie peels away layer after layer until a late scene, with Dom sobbing at the grave of his late wife. It's a beautiful scene, and demonstrates what Jude Law's range in a way that hasn't been seen since Closer.
The rest of the cast is uniformly stellar as well. Richard E. Grant plays an aging criminal dandy whose fierce friendship of Dom might conceal unrequited feelings, though the movie only barely hints at such longing. While Law's performance is so big it threatens to burst out of the screen, Grant underplays Dickie with a deft and subtle touch. Demian Bichir is also great as Fontaine, making his Russian killer whose every civilized and honorable word and gesture hides a barely perceptible menace beneath the surface. That being said, it's Jude Law's movie. Dom Hemingway is capable of such unhinged bombast that the quiet, tender glimpses we see are all the more effective and heartbreaking. If Law's performance doesn't snag him an Oscar nomination next year, I don't know what's wrong with the world.