With its inhuman expectations and unrealistic standards of beauty and physical types, the film industry seems keen on chastising its movie stars who dare to grow old. While this is often more true for women, some men — who are too pretty for their own good — are often thrown aside as the industry embraces the new young-pretty-it-person in town. When audiences worldwide first became aware of Jude Law, he was lying in an Italian beach, as the sun caressed his discretely muscular body. His Dickie Greenleaf in Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, encouraged the press to label him the same way they did his character: as a golden boy.
After an impressive run during the early aughts (2004 had him appear in no less than five new films) he began appearing in movies that left much to be desired and by the end of the decade he had been relegated to what might be described as sidekick roles in studio fare like Sherlock Holmes (which are arguably Robert Downey Jr.’s movies). Even though he was still impossibly good looking, his hairline had started receding, his personal life had become more interesting for the tabloids than his career, and the industry was now fixated on welcoming young men to be the next big franchise superhero. It seemed as if there was no place for Law.
Then came three films in which he seized control of his image, exploded public perception of who he was and finally emerged a bold, new version of himself. In Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion he played a Julian Assange type trying to uncover a conspiracy amidst the world’s worst epidemic, in Joe Wright’s stylish Anna Karenina he played the heroine’s husband and reteaming with Soderbergh in the sexy Side Effects he became the James Stewart proxy if this had been a Hitchcock production. What do all of these have in common? They allowed Law to play with his looks, while he looks dashing in Side Effects, there’s a newfound sense of everyman-ness that make us look twice at his character. In Contagion he looks downright ugly, not to mention he plays someone who is just as terrible and as Alexei Karenin, we even see him put on a primitive contraceptive contraption before he engages in passionless intercourse with Anna.
It seems as if director Richard Shepard was certainly doing his viewing homework as he decided Law would be the perfect actor to play the title role in his Dom Hemingway. As an ex-con, making his way back into London after 12 years in prison, Law combines the grittiness Soderbergh unearthed and the despicably human qualities he exuded as Karenin. His performance takes him to places we’d never seen him visit before. Not only did he gain 30 pounds to play the part (apparently ten Coca-Colas a day did the trick!) but he also flaunts an exaggeratedly receding hairline. Notably, Dom might actually be his very first foray into becoming a full on character actor.
His exuberant performance in Dom Hemingway has him riff on Michael Caine and every single character in a Guy Ritchie mobster flick. But unlike the enjoyable rascals of Ritchie’s movies, Law’s Dom is given the opportunity to create a recognizable human being. His interactions with outlandish characters like Demián Bichir’s Mr. Fontaine and Richard E. Grant’s Dickie, all the more astonishing because of how caricaturesque they seem when paired with his heartbreaking interactions with his daughter (played by Emilia Clarke). If the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has a good memory, Law will be a shoo-in for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy this year and this stellar performance ought to be just a preview of what’s to come in his career. This is one renaissance we truly had been waiting for: Law assuming his place in the pantheon of our greatest contemporary actors.