Review of Dom Hemingway, Directed by Richard Shepard
In Richard Shepard’s latest film, Dom Hemingway, Jude Law plays the title character, a middle-aged, cockney-accented, safecracking bro with a crass but impressive knack for rhetoric who just spent 12 years in prison. He lives life only from the highest mountaintop or lowest valley – big, bold, and to the fullest. He spares no words. His fingers are magic. Supremely confident. Bombastic. Always boozing. Lover of women, drugs, and money. The world has never seen a man like him before and never will again, because he’s Dom Hemingway.
The opening scene encapsulates this, in which Dom gives a several-minute monologue about the impeccable glories of his male anatomy. When he gets out of prison, the first thing he does is beat up a man who got involved with his then-divorced and now-deceased wife. These moments introduce a character who is by all accounts a terrible person. Dom is a despicable man and yet immensely entertaining to watch. He always lives at the extremes, whether describing a wicked hangover or running away in the nude from a deadly criminal he just insulted.
Just when you think there’s nothing further to be said about a headache or no more insults to conjure in the face of a master criminal, Dom comes up with another outlandish metaphor – again, and again, to great comedic effect. From the first frame to the last, the entire film rides on the grandiloquent energy of Dom’s persona. Though profane, his language is brilliantly crafted by Shepard and brilliantly executed by Law.
Supported by his lone friend Dickie (Richard Grant), Dom moves to get compensation from the wealthy Mr. Fontaine, a man with whom Dom engaged in some sort of criminal enterprise before going to prison, and who he protected in court by not testifying and thus bringing a longer sentence upon himself. Fontaine rewards him first with prostitutes, then a weekend at his French villa and a quarter-million pounds. Disaster strikes during the weekend party, however, when the lot of them get in car accident while joyriding through the countryside. Fontaine dies in the crash, but his lady friend Paolina flees the scene for the villa and makes off with Dom’s money, leaving him to spout frustration in the pouring rain.
Left with nowhere to turn, Dom returns to England to his estranged daughter and arrives at her place as a hot, drunken mess. Bitter at him for his lack of care for his family, she promptly rejects him. Twice down, but still not out, Dom looks to make his way in a world that seems to have moved on without him and taken every opportunity for the good life – whether that means rejuvenated familial relationships or acquiring large sums of money. This quest, I suppose, is what makes him a sympathetic character and keeps the film from bombing entirely. Dom Hemingway may not be admirable or even likeable, but we still don’t want to see him fail.
The film ends on an inconclusive note. (SPOILERS) Dom vows, in tears at his wife’s grave, to win back his daughter. And of course he will, he says, because he’s Dom Hemingway. With his seductive kindness and irresistible charms, there’s no way he’ll fail. In theory this moment should pull on our heartstrings, but we’re unsure whether to let it. We’ve already seen Dom turn from penitent offender to selfish jerk in mere moments. Immediately after this graveside experience, he makes good on his plan by offering to walk his grandson to school the next week. But shortly after that, he finds a swing of “good fortune” by stealing a diamond ring from Paolina thanks to a chance encounter in a restaurant.
Just as the real story thus begins, the credits roll. Who is Dom Hemingway? We may have just vividly experienced something of his bombastic existence, but beneath his oft-inebriated mind and self-obsessed heart, it’s hard to say. He gave us something to laugh at for an hour and half. Little more.