A film review by Craig J. Koban July 29, 2014 


2014, R, 93 mins.


Jude Law as Dom Hemingway  /  Richard E. Grant as Dickie  /  Demián Bichir as Mr. Fontaine  /  Emilia Clarke as Evelyn  /  Kerry Condon as Melody  /  Mădălina Diana Ghenea as Paolina

Written and directed by Richard Shepard 

Richard Shepard’s black comedy/crime drama DOM HEMINGWAY goes brazenly for broke in its opening scene and never once apologizes for itself, nor does it sheepishly look back. 

The introductory monologue is also a rallying cry for the reinvention of Jude Law, who seems to be breaking the fourth wall and bellowing to the audience to forget his past resume of playing relative good guys.  In this scene we are introduced to Law’s title character, an ace East Ender safecracker that’s just coming off of a 12-year prison sentence.  In one lingering, static, and unbroken bravura shot that seems to go on forever, we witness Dom boisterously preach the gospel of his own sexual stamina and joyously champions the powers of his…let’s say…manhood.  As he goes on and on and on about his hedonistic prowess, the camera slowly pulls back to reveal a fellow inmate, just sitting below his waist, and…well…you can fill in the blanks from here.   

This scene immediately sets the overall tone of DOM HEMINGWAY, which seems to bask more in the splendor of Law’s truly enrapturing and ferocious performance than it does with, say, nuances of storytelling and narrative cohesion.  Shepard, as a filmmaker, is no stranger to focusing his spotlight on lovable criminal losers that engage in wanton unethical behavior (see his terribly underrated THE MATADOR, featuring a career best performance by Pierce Brosnan), and DOM HEMINGWAY continues his penchant for dealing with scenery-chewing anti-heroes whose innate vulgarity matches their introverted vulnerability.  Even when the film seems to be confused and muddled as to what precise kind of story it wishes to tell, there’s no denying that Law’s toweringly charismatic tour de force performance here keeps viewers intrinsically captivated; when he’s on-screen, the film has an ethereally hypnotic power. 



As mentioned, Dom has been put away for a decade-plus, but being a semi-honor bound man, he has kept his lips sealed about any accomplices to his unspecified ill deed.  When finally released, Dom engages in an all-out orgy bender of drugs and prostitutes, but eventually reconnects with his old pal Dickie (Richard E. Kelly, marvelously droll here) and his employer Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir), who owes Dom a debt for not squealing on him.  Fontaine gives Dom a gift on nearly one million pounds, but when a wicked car accident – and more aggressively uncivilized behavior – befalls Dom, he finds himself losing the money.  To make matters even worse for him, Dom attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Evelyn (GAME OF THRONES’ Emilia Clarke), who wants nothing to do with her father, seeing as he left both her and her dying mother when he was incarcerated.  This is just the beginning of Dom’s sordid and distressed rehabilitation back into society. 

There’s nothing inherently original or refreshing about the central narrative to DOM HEMINGWAY that we’ve all not see countless times before in other crime films (i.e. – the vicious, foul tempered, and violence-prone crook that’s trying to go legit and straight, but finds many obstacles in his path).  Yet, Shepard makes up for the film’s more conventional undertones by infusing in it a carefree urgency and sense of wild unpredictability to the proceedings; you’re never really 100 per cent sure where Dom’s journey of redemption is going to take him next.  This is also assisted by Shepard’s razor sharp, crackerjack dialogue exchanges where characters engage in endlessly cyclical rants and arguments that have a dizzying, yet lyrical symmetry about them.  The words that come out of Dom’s mouth may indeed be more colorfully grandiose and theatrical than grounded and realistic, per se, but they help to accentuate him as a persona with a profanely larger than life gusto.   

This is clearly Jude Law’s film through and through; it seems only inevitable that other side characters get a bit lost in the limelight when under his omnipresent shadow.  I’ve rarely seen Law – sporting muttonchops, a greased back receding hairline, a pot belly, and a perpetual animalistic gaze – so convincingly and audacious commit himself to a movie role as he has here.   Under a lesser actor’s hands, Dom would have been toxically dislikeable man within a few opening minutes of the film.  Yet, Law manages to find an impossible happy medium with the character of presenting him as an all-out lecherous, good-for-nothing goon and as a subtly sympathetic lout that perhaps has no control over what happens to him or his foul temper that gets the better of him.   It takes a special type of focused thespian talent to make a such a unreservedly appalling person miraculously endearing, but just as James McAvoy did recently in FILTH, Law seems more than equal to the challenge of the atypically off-centered casting challenge presented to him. 

I only wished that DOM HEMINGWAY found an interconnected manner of fusing all of its core ingredients together to make one successful whole.  The fact that Law is such an engaging lightning rod of fascination in the film is both a blessing and hindrance.  Shepard is capable of making DOM HEMINGWAY grotesquely hilarious in spite of its ghastly overtones at times, but overall the film seems to struggle with balancing macabre laughs with soulful character drama.   Then there are would-be crucial subplots interwoven within the film, like the one involving Dom’s stressful relationship with his daughter, that only seems to be hinted at and brought in whenever the screenplay deems it worthy.  Emilia Clarke has demonstrated herself every week on GAME OF THRONES to be an uncommonly authoritative and commanding actress, and she’s certainly solid here in her brief role here, but her limited screen time does both her talents and the film a glaring disservice. 

Still, DOM HEMINGWAY seems more akin to being an insanely watchable highlight reel for Law’s volcanic and rapturous performance…and I’m ultimately okay with that.  The film not only fully showcases what an undervalued and resourceful performer he is, but it also emphasizes Shepard as a director that has an empowered hand with crafting a stylish and swift moving film (the vivaciously colorful cinematography by Giles Nuttgens gives DOM HEMINGWAY a playfully whimsical aesthetic backdrop for all of the film’s thugs to congregate in).  I may not remember much of what actually transpired in DOM HEMINGWAY, but I’ll certainly never forget Law’s inhumanly coarse underworld gangster.  He’s all kinds of crazy good here

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