As opening soliliquies go, a beefed up, tattooed and incarcerated Jude Law championing the exquisiteness of his male appendage while receiving fellatio from a fellow inmate is unusual. This ill-advised and unfunny speech has the necessary shock factor but misses the darkly comic desires of the film. It sets the tone for much of what is to come; if you’ll excuse the pun.
Law plays the supposedly legendary safe-cracker Dom Hemingway. Dom is a lewd, foul-mouthed tornado with the finesse of a bull in a china shop, Victorian mutton chops, a gold tooth and all the swagger necessary to pull off the London gangster archetype. After his opening rant and moment of relief, he receives “the call” and is released to applause and a shower of ticker tape and toilet roll from his adoring former cellmates. What has he done to deserve such fame? We don’t know, and it is never made clear either. The title appears to be self-appointed. I don’t know much about life on the inside but I don’t think receiving oral from a long-haired fella with a five o’clock shadow is something that Al Capone would have bragged about in the Alcatraz exercise yard.
In any case, we are reminded, repeatedly, that Hemingway did a 12-year stretch and kept his mouth shut for his then employer, the elusive ‘Monsieur Fontaine’. Dom’s right-hand man, Dickie Black (an ever-superb, one-handed Richard E. Grant sporting enormous canary yellow sunglasses), tells us that Fontaine “was raised in a Russian orphanage and kills people for a living; of course he has a well-stocked bar.” Good news for the two thirsty Londoners on a jaunt to the south of France to collect what is due to Dom for his silence and time served. As a side note, Fontaine (a Russian mobster who adopts the airs and graces of a French country gent) is played by the actor Demian Bichir (who is Mexican). Make sense of that if you can.
What ensues is a weekend of catastrophic debauchery, drink, money and the distraction of Fontaine’s mesmerizing trophy wife, Paolina (Madalina Ghenea – below).
It is during this sequence that director Richard Shepard really lays on a thick layer of the colour red, which will continue until the end of the film. What does he want it to represent? Passion, love, danger… Is it maybe just his favourite colour? Bloodstains on white shirts are not uncommon for a gangster movie but then we have Paolina’s dress, the flowers, the centre label of a record, the furniture and last but not least the use of a Scorsese-esque red light to make the whole debacle feel in some way menacing.
The director also attempts to split the film up with yellow-captioned chapter markers Tarantino-style. If they are intended to be amusing or clever they sadly do not come across as such.
Shepard shows as little concern for the collateral damage left in Hemingway’s wake as our protagonist does and we are soon back the other side of the channel and very low on cash. Down on his luck, in need of work and desperate to make amends with long-lost daughter Evelyn (Emilia Clarke) who, yes, has red hair, the film plays out on a slightly more contemplative note. Will our remorseless, unscrupulous bad boy finally see sense? You’ll have to see for yourselves.
I’m not sure what Dom’s namesake Ernest would have made of having his surname associated with this film. I can safely say that if he had written the script the c-bomb would not have been dropped quite so regularly and the character development would have had a little more to it. The pair would probably have enjoyed a good drink together, though…