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Director/writer remakes Jude Law

By Dan Lybarger Special to the Democrat-Gazette

This article was published May 16, 2014 at 2:00 a.m.

richard-shepard-frames-a-scene-on-the-set-of-dom-hemingway

Richard Shepard frames a scene on the set of Dom Hemingway.

"Certainly the last few movies I've done, I've had a lot of nice luck taking an actor we think we have figured out and giving a new spin to them," says New York-based writer-director Richard Shepard. "I really like doing that, and it's surprising and fun for the audience."

Some of the stars Shepard has rescued from typecasting have been Pierce Brosnan (who went from playing a super spy in James Bond movies to portraying a burnt- out hit man in The Matador) and romantic lead Richard Gere, who became a potentially dangerous obsessive reporter in The Hunting Party. Shepard's latest movie, Dom Hemingway, features Oscar nominee Jude Law (The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cold Mountain) as a safecracker leaving prison after 12 years.

With his normally slender build and refined bearing, the British Law seems an odd choice to play the title character, but the actor gained enough weight and bluster to earn positive reviews for the transformation. Shepard says we shouldn't be surprised at how effortlessly Law adapted to playing a thug.

"I wanted an actor who would be surprising in this role. I also wanted someone who had done some Shakespeare because Dom is so verbose and does so many monologues ... I thought it would be good to have someone who understood how to speak that long and that much with sort of a poetic energy," he says. "Jude's name came up early sort of in the process of thinking about it. Some people were worried if he could do the physical part of it and be imposing and violent. But I wasn't worried about that because he's such a good actor. He's always been one of my favorite actors, ever since Gattaca. I just think he's got a darkness to him. ...

"Dom is sort of a petty criminal. He's not George Clooney in Ocean's Eleven. He's a low-level guy, and I think Jude just understood him and felt sympathy for him for, as big and crazy as Dom is, he's also very vulnerable. [Law] sort of liked the dichotomy of these rants that he goes on, and this man who can't help but shoot himself in the foot."

As a fan of British noirs like Mona Lisa (which starred the late Bob Hoskins) and Sexy Beast, it's not surprising that Shepard would try making one. Still, it's tempting to wonder whether the screenwriter felt any trepidation about writing dialogue for working-class London criminals. Hoods from the Bronx sound nothing like thugs in Soho. Surprisingly, Shepard says he avoided giving too much thought to the local flavor of the language.

"I wasn't [worried] because I made a very conscious decision when I was writing to not sort of do that, a cockney rhyming slang. I created a world for Dom that's his own in its violent poetic madness. I wrote it without grounding it in any reality other than the one Dom lived in.

"But then with an actor like Jude, who puts on a perfect south London accent, he makes all the material seem very grounded and like it could come out of Dom's mouth. That's very much the case where the writer was helped by the actor the director hired," Shepard says.

While Law has consistently received strong notices for his performance, Dom Hemingway has received wildly divergent reviews. Joe Williams of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says, "While Law bellows blasphemous poetry, his director orchestrates a noirish light show with a cockeyed rhythm." Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter, however, laments: "A wannabe outrageous gangster saga seems patched together from spare genre parts from a generation ago."

Despite the range of opinions, Shepard demonstrates no hard feelings.

"It's had such a crazy response. There have been some just love letter reviews, and then some folks just hate it. There's been not a lot in the middle ground. It's either an 'A' in Entertainment Weekly or horrible in USA Today.

"It's a movie that's particular. It's odd. He's a violent, profane guy. He may strike some people as being too much. I'm not sure. But I'll tell you this. I've never gotten such good reviews for a movie, even with the bad ones. The good ones have been so good. People seem to get what the movie is, so that I feel like I've succeeded. Frankly, I can't lose sleep over the reaction I've gotten to the movie."

MovieStyle on 05/16/2014

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