Stars: Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir, Luca Franzoni, Nick Raggett, Simeon Moore, Glenn Hirst | Written and Directed by Richard Shepard
For a long time Jude Law was a character actor stuck in stale leading man roles. Recently he has loosened those restraints with work in recent films like Contagion. In his latest film Dom Hemingway he not only breaks those restraints he gleefully shoves them down the throats of anyone who may have doubted his talents. If only the movie surrounding him was better. With a lingering narrative that never amounts to much Dom Hemingway is somewhat a chore to get through. Luckily Law’s ferocious performance is enough to make it worth a watch.
In a character introduction that immediately grabs tight of your attention, Dom Hemingway loudly makes his presence known with a diatribe on the wonder of his personal favorite appendage. Vulgar, violent, and unrestrained Hemingway is id personified. You want to laugh at his antics but you are too afraid it may set him off on a rampage. Recently released from prison he is ready, willing, and able to catch-up on all the sex, drugs, and fun he missed while spending twelve years in jail. First he wants to collect the debt he is owed for keeping his mouth shut. Of course this mission is just the first example that nothing can be easy for Dom Hemingway.
At first, second… and well third glance Hemingway appears to be all sizzle and no steak, like one extended note prolonged for a ninety minute stretch. However, there is a level of self-awareness to his audacious behavior. He knows he lacks control, and it scares him at times. When he screams out and insults one of the most powerful drug kingpins in Europe he even realizes he has gone too far. He has an infant like hold of his emotions, and it is that deficient behavior that drives him even crazier.
Writer/Director Richard Shepard has something working, but he can never bring it together. His dialog is full of sharp language and clever repartee. Clearly he has watched himself a Tarantino film or two. Unlike Tarantino his strong words are without punch and meaning. Similar to Tarantino his plot rebels against the typical structure. Hemingway simply goes from place to place seeking for some sort of meaning. A lack of a developed narrative is not the issue. What it is really in need of is imagination—imagination to craft interesting moments for Hemmingway to play in. A safe cracking contest is really the only standout. Hemmingway is able to show of both his rebellious nature and streetwise intellect. The biggest reason it stands out is the fact it is one of the few moments with actual stakes. Hemmingway for once had a purpose behind his actions.
Apparently the only thing he cares about is attempting to reconnect with his estranged daughter, yet it does not have the desired effect the script hopes for. Shepard wants Hemmingway to be tragic joke. One you laugh at and get emotional for. Force it as he may it never quite works. Hemmingway’s madness goes to such extreme lengths it’s difficult to feel any type of sympathy for him. His constant failure feels just—not tragic. Shepard appears certain that the simple premise of having a character long for a relationship with his daughter would entice compassion. Instead you side with his daughter’s decision to stay as far away from him as possible.
Jude Law does everything humanly possible to make you empathize with his plight. A breakdown at his dead wife’s grave is a feat of acting talent. What that moment was missing was actual significance—a microcosm example of what could have been. With a stronger script this could have been one of the better films of the year. Instead Dom Hemingway is like taking the most colorful one note character from a Guy Ritchie movie and building an entire movie around him. While it expands upon the character enough, the entertainment it provides is empty.