Review: ‘Dom Hemingway’ has a great anti-hero and that’s enough

Demian Bichir, Jude Law and Richard E. Grant get down in "Dom Hemingway." Credit: Fox Searchlight
Demian Bichir, Jude Law and Richard E. Grant get down in “Dom Hemingway.”
Credit: Fox Searchlight

‘Dom Hemingway’
Director: Richard Shepard
Stars: Jude Law, Richard E. Grant
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

“Dom Hemingway” has a great lead character and it knows it. Dom Hemingway (Jude Law) is a motormouthed gangster with zero self-awareness, as self-awareness would stop him from talking. He’s introduced launching into a florid monologue that’s largely an ode to his man-stick, in the midst of it being serviced by one of his fellow prisoners. He’s about to get out of a lengthy sentence, which he served for not ratting out his boss (Demian Bichir). For this, Dom expects a great reward, but winds up thwarted by cosmic (read: screenwriterly) forces.

Dom could be a TV character, and the film about him essentially plays like two episodes smashed together, ending on what’s either a semi-conclusion or a cliffhanger, depending on how you see the world. In both, his swinging temper and his bottomless self-pity keep his life — and the film — on shaky ground. Shipped out to meet his boss for what he assumes will be a rich payment, he almost ruins it by loosing his cool and firing out a breathless, accusatory rant made of equal parts arrogance, foolishness, self-righteousness and spittle.

The film isn’t just about the character. It’s about the actor playing him. Law has always excelled at a micro-managed style of comedy; please think of his eventually malfunctioning corporate robot in “I Heart Huckabees,” whose every lightning fast tic seems painstakingly pre-planned. (Also think of the actual robot he played in “A.I.”) He does the same here for the angriest British hood since Ben Kingsley in “Sexy Beast” (though Dom, unlike Kingsley’s Don Logan, is secretly a kitten). When he gets going, he leans forward into close-talker uncomfortability, as though he wanted nothing more than to leap out of his body. His words are daggers, stabbing every second. If he was in “The Raid 2,” his weapon would be threats, and he would be the lone survivor.

Honestly, you don’t want to give this guy too much to do, and writer-director Richard Shepard (of the also very funny “The Matador”) knows it. He tasks him with a handful of amusing misadventures, including a bit where he tries to open a new-fangled electronic safe, having not cracked even an old one in 12 years — a deed he insists on doing only after a few pints. Shepard winds up playing with ideas of fate and redemption, even sporadically dangling an estranged daughter (Emilia Clarke) in front of him. These latter bits are both thumb-twiddlers and not dominant enough to capsize the picture. Even at its most saccharine, “Dom Hemingway” — and Dom Hemingway — remains a cartoon.

Shepard directs the film to match his lead. He skips the grit of the English gangster picture, favoring loud colors and loopy visual gags, like the baboon painting given inexplicable prime real estate in Bichir’s villa. It’s loose and open-ended, fixated solely on it anti-hero and his performer, promising more misadventures, which would be fine.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge


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