In Richard Shepard’s Dom Hemingway (2013), Jude Law stars as the titular foul-mouthed, yet magnificently verbose, Dom Hemingway– a snarling, self-absorbed maniac who also happens to suffer from crippling moments of crippling self-realization and doubt. The film opens on a long take of Dom speaking as if to the audience while nude and with arms outstretched, almost Christ-like. A tirade of obscenities spews from his mouth. Sweaty and grunting as he talks, Dom delivers a remarkable soliloquy entirely about his spectacular, Nobel Prize-winning, cheetah-like penis (only he doesn’t use the word “penis,” if you catch my meaning).
The scene establishes the character brilliantly, at once evidencing his sexual appetite, his extreme narcissism, his penchant for clever turns of phrase, and his gloriously filthy vocabulary. It’s an opening that exhibits some pretty striking parallels to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson (2008), in fact, especially given that we find Dom at this stage in his life serving the final hours of a twelve-year stint in prison. At the same time, other stretches of the film show traces of potential influence from films such as Get Carter (1971) and maybe even The Limey (1999). What I’m getting at is, if you enjoy films about abrasive and/or vulgar British criminals, you’ll likely have an all-around good time with Dom Hemingway.
This is not to say that the film is 100% successful or that Law’s endlessly-swearing British hood is enough to carry the film alone. Because it’s not. The film suffers from some pretty glaring problems and inconsistencies. To begin with, the forward progression of the narrative is stilted at intervals by brief though entirely superfluous chapter titles that ultimately add nothing to our understanding of the events or characters. What’s more, from a purely subjective perspective, we get short-changed on the amount of Richard E. Grant we’re given, especially since he receives second billing on many of the promotional materials. (I’ll concede that he’s actually in it a lot, but I honestly like my Richard E. Grant movies to feature Withail and I levels of Richard E. Grant.)
The most glaring problem I had found in the film, though, is the startling tonal and focal shift that occurs some 45 minutes in. After following Dom on a bloody, drugs and sex-filled quest to receive compensation from his former boss for his time in prison, the film inexplicably turns to more standard indie fare as Dom, a dead-beat, absentee father, attempts to reunite with his estranged daughter and grandson. And it feels largely ingenuous. Only after Dom, having failed to make the connections he sought, takes yet another misguided go at the criminal lifestyle does this focal transition finally work emotionally. It’s almost too little, too late though, but the stellar performance from Law allows the film to reach a very satisfying conclusion anyway, even avoiding some of the most off-putting clichés I’d expected we’d see in the closing moments.
Dom Hemingway is currently available on Blu-ray and Digital HD from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.