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"Dom Hemingway" Viciously Funny

"Dom Hemingway"—Dir. Richard Shepard (Fox Searchlight Pictures)—3.5 Stars

Dom Hemingway
COURTESY FOX SEARCHLIGHT

Jude Law stars as the titular character in "Dom Hemingway."

At last released after 12 years in prison, Dom Hemingway (Jude Law), a master safecracker, sets out to collect the reward he feels owed by underworld colleague Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir), as Hemingway’s sentence would have been a mere three years long if he had ratted out Fontaine. Indeed, when Dom and longtime pal Dickie (Richard E. Grant) travel to the south of France to meet with the mobster, Dom is rewarded almost £1 million, yet his good luck doesn’t last more than a scene or two. Things always seem to go awry for Dom Hemingway—who, in response, perpetually states, “I’m Dom Hemingway!” and proceeds with life as if formulaically reconstructing his self-image despite whatever failure has unseated him this time. Leapfrogging between Hemingway’s main objectives—redemption with his estranged daughter (Emilia Clarke) and the pursuit of his money—writer/director Richard Shepard’s plot is refreshingly unpredictable if a tad spastic.

Jude Law’s arresting portrayal of the titular mobster is the recurring reason why the film remains watchable. Skillfully leveling his character’s borderline-megalomania with a certain compelling tenderness at times, Law is highly engaging. He seems to enjoy a full transformation into the crass West End degenerate while hilariously delivering verbose lines that have a certain Shakespearean timing combined with a modern-day dose of profanity. As a homeless, unemployed ex-con who nevertheless has plenty of time to spend at the corner pub, Law displays an overbrimming temper that often results in physical violence, underlining the tension of Hemingway’s reintegration into society after a dozen years behind bars. Yet Law’s Hemingway also manages, when weeping at his ex-wife’s grave or longing to restore his relationship with his daughter, to demonstrate that on some fundamental level he is actually a good man, worthy of redemption.

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While without Law at the helm the film would certainly suffer, the supporting cast does a tremendous job of elevating what might have been a one-man show into a quirky and nuanced film. Actors more recognizable for their roles on television, such as Clarke of “Game of Thrones” fame and Kerry Condon of HBO’s “Rome” and “Luck,” exhibit remarkable chemistry that transforms scenes which might have been taken as clumsy comedy into scenes of complex character development. Furthermore, Grant as Dickie, Hemingway’s well-heeled, longtime friend from “the business,” dryly delivers some of the most humorous one-liners in the movie while providing a crucial foil to Hemingway’s extreme garrulousness.

While the acting and chemistry are fantastic, it makes watching scenes without a clear objective painfully dull. One example is a scene in which Dom viciously assaults his deceased ex-wife’s second husband, already unconscious after Dom’s initial blows, an oddly lengthy scene that has little connection to the rest of the film. Scenes of boozing and excess at Mr. Fontaine’s are reminiscent of an alternate-universe “Ocean’s Eleven,” where none of the criminals are classy, the gang now consists of only three men, and Brad Pitt and George Clooney fail to show up with the plan. If the exposition of the film dragged less, the climax would perhaps have more punch, but instead it feels like an afterthought when the activities most frequently occupying the characters throughout the film are alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking. Additionally, it is hard to justify the odd placement of gruesome details, such as an automobile wreck that leaves one character with a fender through his stomach, as they do not further inform any greater meaning within the film.

While perhaps not “a legend, a myth, a glorious tale to be handed down from generation to generation,” as Dom describes himself, “Dom Hemingway” is more success than failure. Despite the shortcomings and redundancy of the film’s first half, “Dom Hemingway” features a bold and unusual storyline carried well by Jude Law and an excellent supporting cast; in the end, it’s a smart tale of an antihero who, if nothing else, knows who he is and runs with it.

—Contributing writer Emma K.A. Rogge can be reached at emmarogge@college.harvard.edu.

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