Most handsome English actors end up playing blue-collar tough guys before they die: It’s the Hollywood way. The best of the lot includes Michael Caine in Get Carter and Daniel Craig in Layer Cake, but the list of Brits who blazed amok in some nearby nihilistic universe contains nearly everyone who raised a spear in West End Shakespeare. Except, surprisingly, Jude Law, who apparently just realized he hadn’t yet played an eloquent doom-soaked loser and then settled for this script. Law is balding, lamb-chopped Dom Hemingway, a name full of false literary promise. A safecracker so full of himself he makes Peter Pan seem timid, Hemingway comes stumbling out of an honorably served 12-year jail sentence and feels he’s due for a party starring hookers and blow, naturally. Hemingway, however mum with regard to snitching on his fellow inmates, can’t stay lucky, though. He also can’t shut his trap about himself. This we learn in the unusual opening scene, as the camera closes in on his flushed face as he soliloquizes on the virtues of his magnificent penis. When it pulls back, we get a better view of Hemingway’s life.
The main course of the film concerns Dom’s return to society, which includes a few funny smidgens of culture shock. Following his semi-lurid attempts to make up for lost time while reuniting with the daughter he never knew, we keep getting our nose ground into the fact that though ruthless, Dom rarely knows how to pull off anything all the way smart. He’s the kind of guy, to paraphrase Hoagy Carmichael, who happens to things.
It’s all meant to be a meditation on Dame Fortune’s fickle ways — there’s even a young American fairy godmother named Melody involved — but tough-guy movies are usually about agency; grabbing a fortune the easy way is most of the allure. This lackluster film wants us to believe Dom might be ripe for redemption but doesn’t make him interesting enough to save.