Comedy Crime

On About a Film Review: Dom Hemingway

April 11, 2014Ben MK

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Hey Jude

By Ben Mk

Rule, Britannia! The UK isn't just known the world over for its monarchy and its fervent football fanaticism. There's one more thing on which the Brits have put their indelible stamp that's never gone out of vogue — and that's the gangster film. Forget Scarface and The Untouchables; Michael Caine, in Get Carter, and Jason Statham, in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, are the bee's knees. And now, prepare to meet the latest addition to this storied cinematic lineage — Jude Law, as a formerly incarcerated safecracker named Dom Hemingway.

In Dom Hemingway, Law plays refreshingly against type, gaining thirty pounds for the role and shedding his typically charismatic on-screen persona for that of a brutish rogue, whose idea of wit is waxing poetic about the wonders of his nether regions. In fact, when we first meet Dom in the film — as he's serving the twelfth year of his prison sentence — that's exactly what he's doing (whilst receiving a special favor from a fellow inmate). It's a scene that's both funny and cringeworthy at the same time, especially when his diatribe reaches its ultimate conclusion. And it summarizes his character in a nutshell: off-the-cuff, offensive and off-kilter. No question, Dom has a talent for making people feel uncomfortable; but hang around him long enough and maybe he'll start to grow on you.

Luckily, that's precisely what happens; because as it turns out, Dom's also a pretty stand-up guy. His prison term is (at least partially) the result of his reluctance to snitch on crime-lord Ivan Anatoly Fontaine (Demian Bichir); and it's a sacrifice that hasn't gone unnoticed. So when Dom is finally released from prison, Fontaine doesn't hesitate to summon him to his villa in the peaceful French countryside, so that he can convey his gratitude personally. But first thing's first, as Dom is adamant about making up for lost time right out of the gate — and nothing will stop him from tracking down the man who shacked up with his ex-wife during his imprisonment and beating him to a bloody pulp, enjoying a few pints with his old friend, Dickie (Richard E. Grant), then spending the next three days holed up in a motel room with a couple of prostitutes and enough cocaine to kill a horse.

When he emerges from his three-day drug-and-sex catharsis, Dom is finally ready to restart his life — that is, if he can overcome the intense throbbing in his cranium. It's enough to prevent a man from thinking straight; but headache or no headache, he can't seem to avoid bolloxing things up at every opportunity. Considering that he manages to go spectacularly overboard in giving Fontaine — who also happens to be one of the most dangerous men in all of Europe — a piece of his mind, let three-quarters-of-a-million pounds slip through his fingers, and further alienate his already-estranged daughter, Evelyn (Emelia Clarke, barely recognizable compared to her role as Daenerys Targaryen on HBO's Game of Thrones) — all within the span of a couple of days — it's fair to say that Dom's luck outside prison walls is markedly worse than it was on the inside. But there may just be a sliver of hope on the horizon, if he can manage to pull it together long enough to prove that he's still got the goods, and get himself back in the safe-cracking game.

Though the film oozes with swagger and plenty of color (both literally and figuratively), what it boils down to is a character study in shades of grey. Because as entertaining as it is to watch Law chew his way through scene after scene — and it is mesmerizing to listen to his vivid ramblings and watch him channel his character's narcissistic rage into vitriolic outbursts of bravado — Dom Hemingway's plot is rather flat, with a storyline that doesn't do much to gussy up the well-worn trope of an ex-con looking to make good with his estranged daughter. Writer/director Richard Shepard (most recently known for his work on HBO's Girls) succeeds in adding some dimensionality to the narrative, by punctuating it with chapter headings that range from the semi-colorful to quite matter-of-fact — like 'A Weekend in the Countryside Amongst Thieves' and '12 Years is a Long Time' — but it's ultimately the performances that make the picture. Thankfully, Law is at the top of his game — churning out a blustery portrayal, tinged with glimpses of self-loathing. And he's complemented by stellar turns from Grant, Clarke and the rest of the cast, all serving to bring to light the different aspects of Dom's personality.

The Bottom Line

We never do find out if Dom Hemingway is the character's real name (though the moniker is suspiciously auspicious enough to warrant a guess to the contrary) — but either way, Jude Law fills Dom's oversized shoes with a towering performance, graced with highs, lows and everything in-between. By the end of the film, it's plain to see that there's more to him than just a cartoony ball of rage — and for a larger-than-life character like Dom Hemingway, that's saying a lot. [★★★½]

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