film review – Dom Hemingway

At first sight Dom Hemingway is an offbeat British gangster picture, something akin to Guy Richie’s Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels or Matthew Vaughn’s Layer Cake. But much like Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson it doesn’t wait too long to set itself apart. Let me blunt: even though Dom Hemingway is about the titular former safecracker who spent twelve years of his life in prison because he refused to rat anyone out, it’s not a gangster film. It takes some of the genre’s elements to set up its story, but the movie is much more in line with Pedro Almodóvar’s melodramatic oeuvre, looks at Pinter’s absurd theater and Shakespearean comedy and dialogue for inspiration. The result is a strangely alluring and foul-mouthed picture with an unrestrained and electrifying lead performance by Jude Law at its center.

Dom Hemingway‘s plot is a flimsy one, which is actually one of its strengths rather than one of its weaknesses: Dom leaves prison, Dom meets up with an old friend, both men go and see their old employer and it’s then something goes horribly wrong. It’s all engaging enough, but what the plot’s there for is mostly to show the audience who Dom Hemingway is, how he reacts to the people around him, and how he just can’t help himself being a despicable human being. Dom is a vulgar beast of a man with a silver tongue, spouting obscenities and threats in beautiful Shakespearean verse, a character who always takes center stage, who is desire personified, acts first and thinks later. He’s entirely unsympathetic, but Law brings pathos and tragedy to a part that would normally want to make you turn the movie off and, even better, he makes you feel sorry for Dom Hemingway. Jude Law is an actor who often doesn’t get enough credit for his talent and versatility and with Dom Hemingway he once again shows audiences his tremendous range. The supporting cast does a fine job too, especially Richard E. Grant who plays Dom’s closest and only friend, but like the title so clearly states: this is Dom’s movie at all times and the spotlight is always firmly fixed on him.

What holds the movie back somewhat is that it loses it’s lustre in the third act. It becomes too sentimental and too much like gangster flick for its own good. Suddenly two cookie-cutter characters enter the frame: a typical Guy Richie’ish gangster who spouts similar cockney banter, and Dom’s neglected daughter he hasn’t seen in twelve years, who, of course, doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. Law sells the situations and the way Dom copes with them, but it’s a shift in gears that takes away from the film’s theatrical and otherworldly quality that made it work so well up to that point. It’s that theatricality that hid the fact the film is a bit lacking in substance, but once that secret is out, it’s out. The films also mentions something Dom has done in his past which is so cruel and stupid, doesn’t gel with some things we know about his character from earlier in the film, and makes him downright cartoonish.

Dom Hemingway is a showcase for Jude Law’s impressive talent, but the movie is inconsistent. It starts out promising, falls apart a bit toward the end, but Law keeps you engaged until the credits roll. 7/10

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