**1/2 (out of 5)
April 11, 2014
Jude Law as DOM HEMINGWAY
Richard E. Grant as DICKIE
Demián Bichir as MR. FONTAINE
Emilia Clarke as EVELYN
Mădălina Diana Ghenea as PAOLINA
Kerry Condon as MELODY
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Directed by: Richard Shepard
BY KEVIN CARR
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I’m all for outrageous British comedies, but sometimes they don’t have the focus needed to carry through an entire film. Watching “Dom Hemingway” reminds me of watching “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” more than a decade ago. While it has some cool, punchy action scenes, there was a coherence that didn’t hold the film together.
But what the hell do I know? “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” became Guy Ritchie’s signature piece that helped define his career. Maybe “Dom Hemingway” will do the same thing for Richard Shepard, who made a bit of a splash with “The Matador” ten years ago but has since spent much of his time directing television.
In fact, there’s a lot of similarities between “Dom Hemingway” and Shepard’s previous film “The Matador,” featuring an outrageous and boisterous criminal in a half-hearted attempt at redemption. However, where “The Matador” helped launch The Weinstein Company after their much-publicized split from Disney, “Dom Hemingway” might just get lost in the shuffle.
The film is about an obnoxious criminal named Dom Hemingway (Jude Law) who is released from prison after a twelve-year stretch. After binging on drugs, alcohol and a little bit of fisticuffs retribution, Hemingway visits his old crime boss Mr. Fontaine (Demián Bichir). Hemingway is looking for payback in cash for keeping quiet and giving up twelve years of his life. Once he gets paid, he goes on another bender, which results in the loss of his prize, leaving him penniless and struggling, with a final half-hearted attempt to mend his broken relationship with his adult daughter.
There are some truly laugh-out-loud moments in this film, often stemming from Law’s over-the-top performance as the title character. It is his strong performance that actually leaves me somewhat perplexed as to why Fox Searchlight decided to drop this movie in the spring rather than wait for an awards season push for Law. It’s clearly a spotlight piece for him, and while it’s not something that would stand out at the Oscars, it could have gotten some fringe buzz and nominations for the effort Law puts in.
In fact, in addition to Law’s impressive performance, there’s some additional fine acting in the film, notably from Richard E. Grant, who plays Hemingway’s criminal friend easing him back into the regular world. Grant gives an understated and generous performance against Law’s grandstanding, which shows definite chemistry and dry humor.
I can get behind a film that offers outrageousness and over-the-top criminal humor, but where the film doesn’t settle right with me is when it tries to have heart. Somewhere in the second act, we see Hemingway reaching out to his daughter for reconciliation. Here’s where the film takes a predictable turn. However, it never quite commits to it. The story with his daughter seems more of an afterthought, something that was thrown in to pad out the film to a feature-length running time rather than as a focal point of the plot.
Criminals finding themselves is a common theme in independent film and character studies. However, for it to truly work, the film needs to actually be about that character change. “Dom Hemingway” swerves into this in several scenes, flirting with giving the title character a level of humanity, but there just doesn’t seem to be enough story to support it.
In the end, the actual character development becomes a subplot rather than the focus of the story, with the main thrust of Dom Hemingway being a caricature that never goes beyond the set-up stage. This is no more clear than at the conclusion of the film, which offers an overly convenient wrap-up that ends so abruptly, I honestly didn’t think the movie was over when the credits rolled.
So, sure, “Dom Hemingway” is good for more than a few laughs. It’s just not a complete film, and that’s a shame considering it wastes some great performances in the process.