Starring: Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Emilia Clarke
Genre: Drama/ Comedy
After serving 12 years in prison for keeping his mouth shut, safecracker Dom Hemingway (Law) is finally back on the streets of London and he wants what he is owed. Dom and his best friend Dickie (Grant) travel to Southern France to the home of Mr. Fontaine (Demian Birchir), the crime boss who owes Dom for his secrecy. After some serious alcohol and drug consumption and a car crash, Dom returns to London penniless through his own fault. Now with nothing or no one except Dickie in his life he tries to both reconnect with his estranged daughter (Clarke) and get back to doing what he does best for his former rival’s son, who is now a powerful gangster, but can Dom change his old destructive ways?
When the first ten minutes of a film is basically one scene in which a naked Jude Law is solely and constantly going on about how wonderful his cock is, it is not only a rather unique opening to a film, but it also sets the precedent for the entire bloated narrative of Dom Hemingway. This is one foul-mouthed, self confident film that is admittedly at times funny, but also a flawed, stupid, shallow, episodic and painfully overwritten film.
It is just about passable if you completely switch your brain off, but even then Dom Hemingway really tests the patience of even a saint. There is no doubting that Richard Shepard knows who to write edgy, sweary and funny dialogue, but it just feels the case that with Dom Hemingway he just gets too carried away. I appreciate that Shepard has gone for a primarily character driven narrative, but the narrative feels way too episodic and slapdash: with a real feeling that Shapard is making it up as he goes along and the film takes a consistent dip in quality as it goes along. There does seem some attempt at a character arc for Dom, and this feels painfully contrived, clichéd and ultimately very forced and therefore lacks any emotional engagement.
For me Dom Hemingway as its best when it is confident and cocky, the concept of Dom as a protagonist who is ultimately flawed and horrible, but yet likeable is certainly nothing new (Malcolm Tucker, Edmund Blackadder, Bruce Robertson in Filth come immediately to mind), but then the scenes where we are supposed to side with him and see his softer side just do not work for me. I have no idea if Dom Hemingway was actually made before Jon S. Baird’s excellent Filth, but it lacks both the intelligent writing and exceptional leading performance that gives us an ultimately horrible protagonist that we both like and feel emotional engagement for. When shouting at everyone, Dom is an amusing character, but we are not given enough substance to ever care about what happens to him.
Now, back to Dom Hemingway testing the patience of even a saint; well the fact it is that Richard Shepard either struggles to fill 90 minutes or is a little too self confident as it feels every scene of the episodic narrative is overwritten, repetitive and too long. The aforementioned opening scene is amusing at first, but then it gets boring very quickly, and so many scenes, either intentionally funny or sentimental just do not know when to call it a day. The jokes in these scenes begin to wear thin very quickly when the narrative really should have moved on to the next scene, and it does at time make Dom Hemingway a more laborious watch than it could have been. Also Dom Hemingway must be up there as one of the films where the film’s title is mentioned most as Jude Law shouts “I’m Dom Hemingway” very frequently, and often very annoyingly.
Performance wise, Jude Law definitely gives it his all as the foul mouthed protagonist, certainly looking the part. However he lacks the depth that James McAvoy provides in Filth, though that may also have something to do with the material he is given. Richard E. Grant is effortlessly excellent as Dickie, providing gravitas and presence to every scene he is in, even if it is a slightly cynical casting decision. Dom Hemingway provides enough laughs to be watchable, but by the time it gets to its final third and tries to be both serious and form some kind of narrative whole, it is really hard to actually care. Black comedy is very difficult to get right, and with Dom Hemingway Richard Shepard has got it predominantly wrong.
What could have been a nasty but darkly funny film is seriously let down by a script that is contrived, hollow, episodic, repetitive and painfully over written. Dom Hemingway has just enough energy and Richard E. Grant to be watchable and often amusing, but is quickly forgotten and pales in significance to similar sweary Brit flick Filth.