Jude Law a one-man show in ‘Dom Hemingway’

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The experience of watching “Dom Hemingway” bears a surprising resemblance to the experience of being harangued by a madman for 90 minutes.

It’s less a movie than a series of maniac monologues — a one-man show with a few guest appearances, delivered at full spittle by Jude Law in the title role.

There are times when it’s offensive, times when it’s hilarious, times when it’s exhausting, times when it’s exhilarating, and, every now and then, times when it’s all of the above.

The movie, about a British safecracker with a manic streak who is released from prison after a 12-year stint, makes a spiky showcase for Mr. Law, who displays a kind of delirious intensity that we’ve never quite seen before. Kerry Condon, Demian Bichir, and Richard E. Grant all turn in nice performances playing various second fiddles, but it’s Mr. Law’s volcanic turn as Dom that makes the movie.

When we first meet Dom, he’s still in prison, delivering a funny, fiery, vulgar, and decidedly over-the-top ode to a part of himself that can’t be named in a family newspaper. As movie openers go, it’s unquestionably attention-grabbing, and it certainly sets the tone. But it also reveals some of the film’s underlying weaknesses.

The speech begins as a kind of loudmouth’s boast and gradually evolves into something more of an obscene spectacle, but it ends on a bit of a downer, a note that is ultimately sad and desperate — and that doesn’t fit with the extravagant performance that preceded it.

Likewise, the movie’s eventual attempts to bring the high-flying Dom down to earth feel similarly undercooked. Throughout the movie, Dom is a violent, impulsive, and essentially unrepentant thug whose crazed exploits are set to a soundtrack full of high-energy British rock. That is, until his daughter Evelyn (Emilia Clarke from “Game of Thrones”) appears, at which point he becomes, well, a violent, impulsive, but possibly repentant thug who happens to cause gooey, sad-sack music to worm its way onto the soundtrack.

The transition doesn’t make sense for a lot of reasons: One is that the movie never establishes much about the relationship between Evelyn and Dom — indeed, the best evidence we have is that there really never was one. Another is that Evelyn’s character is celluloid thin; there’s absolutely nothing to her, except what she inspires in Dom. But that doesn’t make any sense either, because there’s no other indication whatsoever that Dom is anything but a self-aggrandizing maniac — a creature of pure, foul-mouthed id who is utterly incapable of the sort of sympathetic emotional longings the movie attempts to tack on to him near the end.

A better, braver, and more entertaining film would have stuck strictly to Dom’s larger-than-life qualities, and attempted to reckon with the possibility of a person who truly has no redemptive qualities. Instead, writer-director Richard Shepard, who also wrote and directed the similarly confused 2005 film “The Matador,” gives us a movie that is about someone who obviously has no heart, but which then proceeds to do a bad job of pretending that he does.

★½

TITLE: “Dom Hemingway”

CREDITS: Written and directed by Richard Shepard

RATING: R for vulgarity

RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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