Subscribe for 99¢

Until his final, inglorious moment, Ernest Hemingway was a man who wouldn’t surrender. The same could be said for the eponymous gangster in the dark comedy “Dom Hemingway” — as well as its star and its director.

Jude Law is over 40, a former matinee idol who needs a makeover. In director Richard Shepard, he has found a partner in crime.

Starting with a caper called “The Linguini Incident” in 1991, Shepard has struggled to get out of what he calls “movie jail” — the jobless limbo between big-screen success and small-screen chores. Before hunkering down in television for the past seven years, he directed two entertaining films about aging outlaws — “The Matador” and “The Hunting Party.” Now he is returning to that theme, aboard a raging bull of an actor.

“Dom Hemingway” is a somewhat flimsy flick, but Law shines through the holes in a fabric that can’t contain him. Indeed, in the first scene, the flabby Dom is proudly naked, extolling his manhood while he is sexually serviced by an unseen lover. That’s the day that safecracker Dom is released from prison, after serving 12 years as a favor to kingpin Ivan Fontaine (Demian Bichir).

Now it’s time to let off steam. Dom pummels the meek fellow who married his ex-wife, trashes a hotel room with hookers and blow, then travels to a villa in the south of France with his diplomatic sidekick Dickie (Richard E. Grant). There they meet with the charming Mr. Fontaine, who gratefully gives Dom his share of some heist money. But Dom wants more — an apology for his 12 years of servitude, in the fulsome form of Fontaine’s girlfriend, Paolina (Madalina Diana Ghenea).

In a slippery twist of fate, he ends up empty-handed in London, bunking with his estranged daughter, Evelyn (Emilia Clarke). The sentimental subplot about the daughter and the now-deceased wife takes the edge off a movie that feeds on it, while a detour about a rival gangster who demands that Dom prove his safecracking skills goes nowhere.

The movie is best enjoyed as a minor-key operatic, not a coherent story. While Law bellows blasphemous poetry, his director orchestrates a noirish light show with a cockeyed rhythm. Shepard doesn’t riff as furiously as Quentin Tarantino in “Pulp Fiction” or race as fast as Guy Ritchie in “Snatch,” but he writes outrageous lyrics and finds some interesting spaces between the beats. Then he let’s the larger-than-life Law fill them until they explode.


What “Dom Hemingway” • Three stars out of four • Rating R • Run time 1:33 • Content Sexual content, nudity, pervasive language, some violence and drug use • Where Plaza Frontenac

Joe Williams is the film critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.