In Dom Hemingway, the titular character (played by Jude Law) is back on the streets of London after refusing to rat on his criminal associates in a money heist gone south. In spite of his nasty temper, Hemingway’s loyalty (and subsequent twelve year prison stay) earned the respect of crime boss, Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir) – but dealt a painful blow to an already rocky relationship between Dom and his daughter, Evelyn (Emilia Clarke).
Reuniting with his former best friend Dickie Black (Richard E. Grant), Dom sets out to right the wrongs of the last decade: beating his (now deceased) ex-wife’s second husband to a pulp, enjoying an all expenses paid weekend of cocaine and hookers, as well as seeking financial reparations from Fontaine. However, when Dom’s high-octane “money first” lifestyle comes back to bite him, leaving the former safe-cracker penniless and without job prospects, he’s faced with a life-changing realization: “A man with no options has all the options in the world.”
Dom Hemingway opened to international box offices at the end of 2013, and several months later, is now set for release in the United States. Richard Shepard (The Hunting Party and The Matador) wrote and directed the film, which stumbles a fine line between crude over-the-top antics and a thoughtful tale of personal reformation. Above all else, amidst a cast of quirky characters and exaggerated situations, Dom Hemingway is a showcase for Law’s range in nearly every scene – as the actor dances from one drug-induced tantrum, humble apology, and cocksure scheme to the next. Law holds very little back, elevating an otherwise standard story about a criminal struggling to balance “good” intentions with a unique (and felonious) skill set.
While Shepard’s script and direction provide a workable platform for Law to explore, the Dom Hemingway plot relies heavily on turning the lead character into a whiney and cartoonish caricature for cheap (or uncomfortable) laughs. There are fine lines between unlikable and detestable protagonists – lines that Shepard crosses on more than one occasion without communicating anything particularly insightful about the Dom character. As a result, when the director attempts to permanently shift the audience into Dom’s corner, there aren’t nearly enough well-defined emotional touchstones to make the transition believable (or satisfying).
Instead of a nuanced journey of self-reflection, Don Hemingway is 3/4 illicit shenanigans with 1/4 heavy-handed family drama thrown in – which, thankfully, gives the character a second level to operate on (besides kick, punch, screw, and drink). Scenes with Dom’s family are some of the most insightful – and moments with Dom’s grandson, Jawara (Jordan Nash), are more enjoyable (as well as funny) than any of the film’s blown-out attempts at shock humor. Sadly, despite a clear interest in proving that Dom is more noble than criminal, Shepard simply fails to make good on the intention – repeatedly focusing on abhorrent behavior while sidelining subtle character drama. For that reason, even if the audience can sympathize with the titular protagonist, Dom Hemingway‘s teary-eyed and/or earnest set pieces, especially those foreshadowed by Kerry Condon’s call girl-turned philosophizer, Melody, are simply not earned by the scenes that Shepard chose to include.
As mentioned, Law is terrific in the starring role – whether air-humping a safe or trying to find the courage to talk with his estranged daughter, it’s clear the actor relished his time in the zany head of Dom Hemingway. Law’s innate charm and vulnerability make it surprisingly easy to like Dom – even if his actions make it hard to fully appreciate or accept his narrative arc.
Unfortunately, as indicated by the lack of substantive drama, side characters are thinly scripted and only exist as reflections of Hemingway’s personal choices (both past and present). On the surface, every single one is interesting (with quality performances from their respective actors), especially Dickie (Grant), Evelyn (Clarke), her husband Hugh (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), and the son of a competing crime boss, Lestor Jr. (Jumayn Hunter). Yet, without any real investment, the supporting cast isn’t given much to do but rebuke or reward Dom’s hijinks.
In spite of its shortcomings, moviegoers who appreciate an ensemble of oddball characters and tongue-in-cheek criminal drama will likely find enjoyment in Dom Hemingway. Shepard’s film doesn’t reinvent the black dramedy formula but it makes smart use of talented actors and a memorable lead character. Still, the movie only delivers on half of its well-meaning intentions – prioritizing eccentric (and outrageous) comedy beats over developing a genuine (albeit unconventional) account of love and reclamation.
If you’re still on the fence about Dom Hemingway, check out the trailer below:
Dom Hemingway runs 93 minutes and is Rated R for sexual content, nudity, pervasive language, some violence and drug use. Now playing in theaters.
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