To appreciate Dom Hemingway, you have to give up your precious attachment to story. Because Dom Hemingway is not about story, or even about character. It's a comic opera designed to demonstrate Jude Law's dynamic range, to show off his previously underused upper bellow, a gale force Michael-Caine-as-hard-man impression. It's amusing, a little frightening and in the end, probably enough to justify sitting through writer-director Richard Shepard's otherwise largely superfluous (though super-saturated) British crime film.
Law has played criminals before and even tough punks -- I'm thinking of his turn as Billy in 1994's Shopping, a kinetic crime feature set in the near future that holds the somewhat dubious distinction of being the best movie Paul W.S. Anderson has yet made -- but he's generally perceived as a rather quiet and civil if somehow slippery sort. He seemed perfectly cast in recent roles as the cuckold Karenin in Anna Karenina and the author as a young man in The Grand Budapest Hotel. In early middle age, he seems to have settled into an enviable position in our cultural arena; he is not quite an A-list movie star but his name means something to casual moviegoers. He has an onscreen persona (we perceive him as a less daft, more blond Hugh Grant) he can choose to subvert.
Shepard employed much the same strategy in his 2005 film The Matador, in which Pierce Brosnan undermined his elegant, hyper-competent James Bond image by playing a seedy hitman suffering from a lack of nerve. Law undertakes the same kind of deconstruction here as a swaggering, luckless safecracker (do they still call them yeggs?) who has just done a 12-year stretch in prison because he has his principles. Dom does not grass. (Though he's been known to, on occasion, murder cats.) And while he was away, his wife divorced him, married another man and then died of cancer in her husband's arms. His daughter grew up estranged.
Dom is the sort of person who, immediately upon his release, has his roach killers over to the garage where his ex-wife's husband works and beats him into the hospital. Then he repairs to the pub with his apparent only friend, Dickie (Richard E. Grant), an underworld associate who, unlike Dom, has apparently acquired some perspective. While Dickie has laid the groundwork for his friend's return to the real world, Dom's hardly interested in practical matters. He bellows and struts and roars -- and fails to notice that things have drastically changed for Dickie in the time that he has been away.
Soon, Dickie has gathered Dom onto a train and into the French countryside to collect the money due him from the unspecified long-ago job for which he took the fall. Dom also expects a "present" to reward him for his silences, and when one isn't immediately presented, he insults Mr. Fontaine, the name used by the dangerous Russian super-criminal who arranged the mystery heist. (Fontaine is underplayed with bemused precision by the fine Mexican actor Demian Bichir, who might have chosen Dos Equis' "most interesting man in the world" as a model.)
But things seem to work out for Dom when Fontaine not only pays him but throws in a huge bonus -- they're all friends. At least until the spectacularly realized accident on which the movie pivots.
There's a lot to like about Dom Hemingway. It's good to have another Richard Shepard film in the world, even if the highest and best use of Dom Hemingway is as a Jude Law demo reel. Shepard has a great eye for color, he knows how to move his camera through space. He has written a lot of great rants and speeches for Law, a character complicated by small veins of self-pity and self-doubt as well as bluster and righteous anger.
But the film is basically a set for Law as Dom to crash through, and the second half of the film -- in which Dom is as concerned with mending his relationship with his estranged daughter as breaking off a piece of the underworld action -- feels a little soft and false. When the movie takes a break from its tone of merry obnoxiousness to strain for poignancy, it settles too easily into sentimentality.
MovieStyle on 05/16/2014
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