Dom Hemingway opens with the eponymous character locked away in prison receiving oral pleasure from a fellow inmate. While the inmate continues satisfying Hemingway (Jude Law), our protagonist delivers a rousing monologue about the aesthetic merits of his cock — comparing his genitals to the transformative works of Renoir and Van Gogh. Coincidentally this terribly overlong introduction is prophetic in nature. Like the rambling speech, Richard Shepard’s initially amusing, genre-less piece of filmmaking tragically expends its virtues thin by about the 30-minute mark.
Law plays an infamous safecracker who has spent the last 12 years of his life in a prison cell. His sentence could’ve been reduced, but Hemingway was a loyal soldier and kept his mouth shut when the authorities asked him to rat out his accomplices. But silence has a price. Aside from being locked in captivity for a dozen years, Hemingway has missed out on the childhood of his daughter Evelyn (Emilia Clarke), subsequently losing his his wife and everything he built.
We pick up where his jail sentence ends. After a 3-day binge of fucking, drinking, and coke, Hemingway and longtime friend Dickie Black (Richard E. Grant) go to Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir), their affluent boss who ostensibly will be compensating Hemingway for being quiet. When the pick-up goes awry, Hemingway — like every habitual convict when released from prison — must make a vital decision: revert back to the criminal life he knows so well, or go straight.
Dom Hemingway proceeds to chart this choice with varying success. From the outset we see that Dom wants to jettison the estranged father title and reconnect with his daughter, now married and with a child. But as the classic adage goes, old habits die-hard – Hemingway is no exception. Consequently Shepherd’s script drops our protagonist in the streets of London looking for unlawful employment decoding and breaking into seemingly impenetrable safes.
Law imbues Hemingway with ample amounts of swagger and charisma. There isn’t a single frame in Dom Hemingway where we aren’t wholly aware of how confident and cocksure our protagonist is. In fact, a recurring line throughout the movie is Law yelling at the top his lungs, “I’m Don Fucking Hemingway!” Of course, beneath the vain veneer there’s a man with perceptible regrets and fears, but that conflicted shtick grows grating rather quickly.
That’s probably because we’ve seen this wind-up and delivery before: flawed man continues to act immorally. Then flawed man realizes his flaws but is too set in his ways to change. Finally, flawed man decides to take the road less traveled by, opting for progression over regression. The trajectory of Dom’s character arc is set in stone early on, and once realized the film is able to retain very little intrigue.
However, more problematic than the character construction of Hemingway, is the film’s complete uncertainty of what it wants to be. Shepherd’s 7th feature is a peculiar confluence of vulgar comedy, heavy drama and brutal action. Individually each subsection works well enough – but when thrown together we receive an ungainly amalgamation of genres.
Predictability aside, Dom Hemingway deserves some credit for never being dull. Law and Grant keep up the antics fresh and the banter rolling, even when the film itself seems to not know what to do with them. That point is never more true than in the last sequence of the movie – a finale so dismal I got the impression Shepherd and company lost the last page of their script the day of filming. Rarely do you encounter a film where the protagonist’s conflicts is as neatly and simplistically resolved as they are here. If only life were so easy.
The Upside: Strong first act; Jude Law and Richard E. Grant
The Downside: Tonal and genre inconsistencies; simple wrap-up
On the side: Jude Law’s weight gain for the role was reportedly accomplished by drinking ten Cokes per day.