MRR Review: "Dom Hemingway"

Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Rating: R
Length: 93 minutes
Release Date: April 2, 2014
Directed by: Richard Shepard
Genre: Comedy / Crime / Drama

Einstein he is not, but that does not keep Dom Hemingway from touting his own magnificence. The cocky, headstrong criminal served a 12-year stint in prison because he refused to rat on the crime boss he was working for. Bitter about the hand life has dealt him, the newly released Dom is ready to take his anger out on the whole world.

Dom was hired by a group of criminals to help crack open a safe. When the job went awry, Dom was arrested and asked to give up the names of his employers. He declined and served over a decade in prison as a result. Upon his release, Dom's first order of business is to murder the man who married his wife while he was locked up. Dom's wife has long since died, but his own adult daughter (Emilia Clarke) is there to witness the crime, much to her horror. Dom then teams up with former accomplice Dickie (Grant). Dickie is Dom's best and only friend and has been in London for years, eagerly awaiting Dom's release. After a three-day bender of drugs, sex and alcohol, the two head for the South of France to find wealthy Slavic mobster Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir), who owes Dom money for keeping his silence after the botched safe cracking job. Dom and Dickie find Mr. Fontaine in. However, Fontaine's girlfriend, Paolina (Madalina Diana Ghenea), absconds with Dom's money after a car accident. A penniless Dom then returns to London, where he hopes to make amends with his estranged daughter. Dom's streak of bad luck continues throughout the rest of the film as he has several unfortunate encounters with his daughter, drug dealers and former associates.

Jude Law plays the macho but secretly soft-hearted Dom with charisma and control, resulting in what may be the best performance of his career. In a particularly potent scene, Law delivers a rude, profanity-filled monologue that might have been a disaster in the hands of a lesser actor into a stunning character revelation. He strikes the perfect balance between apathetic and nonchalant, giving Dom a color and depth that make him the film's standout character.

Dom is a multidimensional anti-hero, made human through his bad choices, stubbornness and unwillingness to invent apologies for who he really is. He is an energetic enigma who acts without thinking and is quick to exact vengeance on those who have wronged him. However, the brash, cocksure and uncensored criminal shows an unexpected respect and sensitivity, particularly in his dealings with women. This includes his daughter, the independent and determined Evelyn, who wants nothing to do with her deadbeat dad. She does not trust him, especially after watching him turn her step-father's face "into Bolognese." Though "Dom Hemingway" at first appears to be a revenge film, it turns out to be a redemption film. Evelyn is Dom's Achilles heel, and he desperately wants to make things right with her.

Naming a film after its fictional title character is always a bold move for the filmmaker. It implies that the character himself is extremely interesting and important and has a lot to say. In the case of "Dom Hemingway," it happens to be true. The movie is built entirely around Dom's actions and reactions. He is very much the center of the film's universe and, as a result, things seem to happen organically without intrusion from a contrived plot. This focus on Dom as the center of the film's universe grounds the story, giving it a gritty sense of rootedness in reality.

"Dom Hemingway" explores its title character's existential angst via a series of chapters rather than acts. Each of these episodic chapters has its own rude, tongue-in-cheek title, adding interest to the story. This inspired filmmaking choice suits the boldness of the story itself. The chapters work as brief but effective character sketches that provide a sense of who the character is, what he desires and what motivates him the most. The story is also split into two halves, the first half showing Dom as the hardened criminal who will stop at nothing to get what he wants and the second showing his soft side.

This blunt-force film strikes with aggression and purpose. It hits audiences hard, painting a dark story of gang activity and an even darker hero. The combination of director Richard Shepard's deft hand with flawed male protagonists, powerhouse performances from an outstanding cast led by Law, and stunning cinematography by Giles Nuttgens make for a successful, darkly comedic story and an unforgettable character.