Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama
Directed by: Richard Shepard
Starring: Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir, Emilia Clarke
The sight of Pierce Brosnan strolling through a hotel lobby wearing only underwear and boots is one that has been seared into my brain since watching Richard Shepard’s glorious 2005 black comedy The Matador. The prospect of a British gangster equivalent was certainly intriguing. While Jude Law gives it his all and gets to wander around in flagrante, Dom Hemingway is a disappointing let down, struggling with a distinct lack of charm, and an even more distinct inability to generate interest.
Law plays Dom Hemingway, an eloquently foul-mouthed, hard drinking, violent safecracker with a major impulse control problem. Locked up for 12 years, he’s finally released. After a quick stop to savagely beat the man who moved in with his ex-wife while he was inside, Dom then makes his way to France with his best friend Dickie (Richard E. Grant) to claim his reward from Fontaine (Demián Bichir), the dangerous crime boss that he refused to rat out while inside.
Everything seems to be going well, but luck does not shine on Dom, a fact he is keen to regularly point out. When his sojourn to the south of France goes sour, caused by a combination of his own reckless behaviour and Fontaine’s girlfriend (Mădălina Diana Ghenea), he is forced to return with Dickie to try and find employment the only way he knows how. Back in London, he also attempts to reconnect with Evelyn (Emilia Clarke), his much neglected daughter.
One thing’s for sure, this is not Jude Law as you’ve seen him before. It’s a serious change of pace and one he excels at, throwing himself head first into the full catalogue of Dom’s depraved adventures. He fights, swears and spews his way through scenes. This is less chewing the scenery, more ripping it to shreds.
Shepard also has a gift for profane comedy. Starting with a rambling monologue on the merits of his own manhood, Dom is the street poet of the London underworld. The first half in particular contains a number of jokes that hit the bullseye as Dom describes himself and his situation in increasingly crude and offensive ways. Even worse for his well-being, he can’t help but describe other people in the same way, often to their face. He abuses Fontaine in his own house, expresses insensitive astonishment when Dickie explains why he wears a black glove, and even insults a prospective employer who is already annoyed that Dom killed his pet cat years before.
Amiable as this is initially, it eventually becomes apparent that this is all something of a fog to obscure the weaknesses in the central story, the main one being it’s all just a bit dull. The cheeky, renegade Dom act is entertaining for a while, but not for the entirety of a feature film. The problem with Dom is that he’s not really a person, just a vulgar parody mixing British gangster film tropes with frat boy comedy. He might as well have stumbled out of a sketch show with his overblown amateur dramatics.
Ultimately we know very little about Dom, aside from him name which he finds every opportunity to bellow out. This lack of connection means that his repertoire of abusive comments and mannerisms starts to wear thin after a flying start. The second half suffers badly as a result. His quest to reconnect with his daughter becomes meaningless without any emotion. It’s also hard to care about his struggle to readjust to life on the outside when Dom’s life in or out doesn’t seem real.
In the excitement of creating such a larger than life lead character, everyone else is side-lined. Richard E. Grant shows his usual impeccable comic timing, but Dickie exists mainly to cheer Dom on from the side-lines, literally at times. Fontaine is mostly irrelevant as is his girlfriend, and Emilia Clarke is left with nothing to work with beyond a stylish haircut.
Dom Hemingway does not lack confidence, but with such thin material, perhaps it should. There are good moments, but irreverence and irrelevance appear to have been confused. Dom spent 12 years in prison. Just imagine getting stuck in a cell next to him because 90 minutes in his company is already too long.