Jude Law

Some films put more effort in their style than their substance, focusing on flashy camera work, sharp editing and elaborate settings. As long as the film contains a rich enough story to support the extravagant style, this practice is fine. Unfortunately, “Dom Hemingway” is too obsessed with looking good to tell a coherent story. It has all the elements for a fantastic tale but wastes its stellar protagonist and an interesting setup at almost every turn.

Having just been released from a 12-year prison stint, former safecracker Dom Hemingway (Jude Law) seeks to claim his reward for taking the punishment for the crimes of mob boss Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir). After the rendezvous goes south, he and his best friend Dickie (Richard E. Grant) head back to London, where Hemingway hopes to score a job from former nemesis Lestor (Jumayn Hunter) and to reconnect with his estranged daughter Evelyn (Emilia Clarke).

“Dom Hemingway” has all the quirks of a Tarantino film. It possesses great energy and a flare for offbeat humor, liberal usage of intertitles and fast-paced, profanity-laden dialogue. But these only benefit a film with a compelling narrative, and the film’s story flails between plot points with no clear direction and no control of its own pacing. The narrative take interesting turns but ultimately is too confused about its own identity to be meaningful. 

The film has something of a personality disorder, straddling the line between family dramedy and crime film. Motivations change on a whim while characters disappear from the plot with little explanation and then miraculously reappear by sheer convenience. “Hemingway’s” world attempts to set itself up as a fantastical land where this is acceptable, but ultimately it feels like a cheap shortcut for the plot. The film’s unexplained luck and open, unappealing conclusion also hurt the story and added to a few confusing plot developments.

“Hemingway’s” strength stems from the charm of its lead. Law clearly has a blast as Hemingway and channels both arrogance and vicious anger perfectly. Everything about him is crude, loud,and obnoxious, yet Law’s personality makes him extremely likeable and hilarious. Grant is also enjoyable as Hemingway’s stiff and cynical wingman. The banter between them is amusing and makes up the more humorous parts of the film. Unfortunately, the supporting cast is so weakly developed that they have no apparent personality. Clarke, who has very little screen time in an already short film, is never deepened past a musically talented woman with daddy issues. What should have been an exciting role to act becomes sidelined by other, less interesting characters and plotlines including Hemingway and his brief attempts to reenter the field of safecracking.

Director and writer Richard Shepard obviously had large ambition during the production of “Dom Hemmingway,” which shows through the colorful language and passionate characters. It can’t support the poor, flimsy story that doesn’t have a clear idea where it wishes to go. This is a shame, as the film’s cartoonish characters are entertaining and refreshing. The film ultimately ends up as proof that a superfluous style must be acquainted with an equally interesting and coherent plot in order to truly function as a likeable, worthwhile picture.

In the last 18 months, Steven Soderbergh has cranked out films with stunning efficiency, bouncing around genres with “Contagion,” “Haywire,” “Magic Mike,” and finally, “Side Effects,” a worthwhile dip into the pool of the psychological thriller. Soderbergh has threatened to retire after “Side Effects,” but the riveting, surprising thriller proves that his voice is as strong as ever.

Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), a mentally bruised woman, begins to spiral after her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is released from prison. Psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), worried about Emily, prescribes her a rotating regimen of antidepressants. As Emily struggles to get back on her feet, her new meds cause more trouble than they’re worth, with dangerous results for the people in her life.

Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns has collaborated with Soderbergh before on “The Informant!” and “Contagion,” and he stages a twisty, engaging shell game. “Side Effects” overflows with clever dialogue and creates fascinating characters. As the film dives into its plot (the particulars of which are best left unspoiled), the dynamic between Emily and Dr. Banks becomes increasingly layered and unpredictable. However, “Side Effects” suffers from a few storytelling problems, and its final stretch gives into unexpected pulpy instincts a bit too readily, resulting in a convoluted conclusion that reveals very little about the characters or story.

However, director Steven Soderbergh presents “Side Effects” with such unflappable confidence that even when the story is stretched thin, his aesthetic moves things along so smoothly that it’s hard to notice. Soderbergh works with remarkable economy in every frame, keeping his images perfectly sparse. His best work is in the film’s first movement, as he roots the audience firmly in Emily’s perspective by placing her as the only object in focus, while the world around her is blurry and hard to maneuver. It’s evocative, smart direction, and another reason why Soderbergh is one of the most perceptive directors working today.

Rooney Mara surprised everyone with her fearless performance in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” and she continues to impress here. As the side effects of Emily’s medication become increasingly troublesome, Mara gracefully skips between charming, dreamy, and icy. Jude Law brings plenty of acumen and determination to Dr. Banks, making him an easy anchor for audience sympathy in the murky waters of the film’s second half.

“Side Effects” starts to falter a bit as things wrap up, but Steven Soderbergh’s assured direction and wry performances from Law and Mara keep things afloat. Soderbergh certainly works enough to have earned his retirement, but his clear, engaging voice and unshakable confidence pair so well with Scott Z. Burns’ strong character work and shining dialogue that it’s hard not to wish for more collaborations between the pair.