There are plenty of performances that Jude Law has received accolades over his career but I can guarantee you that none of those performances are nearly as entertaining, explosive and funny as his turn as the volatile, insecure and charming titular character at the center of Dom Hemingway. Fitted with gold fillings, a receding hairline, mutton chops and a gut befit for Jack Black, the usually proper Law is next-to-unrecognizable in the eponymous safe cracker in this outrageous crime comedy. Dom may be a repulsive fellow, a quintessential Brit street thug, but Law, proving yet again that he’s more effective as off-beat characters than as mainstream leads, makes this pathetic piece of rotting meat into a sympathetic creature whom you find yourself secretly cheering for.
When we’re introduced to Dom, in the film’s opening shot, he’s looking directly at the camera, delivering a lengthy, adrenaline-fueled, profanity-laden monologue about the aesthetic riches of his penis. “It needs to be in the Louvre,” he says; “It’s a Picasso. They’ll write sonnets about it. Wars will be fought over it.” Yes, vanity is one of his defining traits. So are rage, insecurity and an unquenchable thirst for debauchery.
One thing that Don doesn’t have much of is a brain. Turns out he’s been serving a 12 year sentence in prison for taking the fall for his boss Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir). He took this deal over staying by the side of his dying wife and young daughter (Emilia Clarke). When he gets off for good behavior (to put it mildly) a dozen years later, he and his long-time buddy, a one-armed sap named Dickie Black (Richard E. Grant, superbly underplaying) take a trip to France to collect the large sum of money owed to him from Mr. Fontaine. The events that follow over the course of and after this drug and alcohol-fueled weekend make up the bulk of this riotous picture. Let’s just say that not everything goes to plan.
Dom Hemingway was written and directed by Richard Shepard, whose previous claim to fame was directing the underrated Pierce Brosnan crime comedy The Matador, but it has more in common with the earlier films of Guy Ritchie (Snatch) and Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) as well as Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast. In other words, it’s a hyper-stylized, ADD-infused joy ride rife with sex, drugs, alcohol and all their accessories. For its first 45 minutes, the film kicks down the walls, rattles the cages and zips by like a potent drug trip. Shepard’s witty script, an endless source of sterling one-liners and insults, and sharp direction ensures that the laughs keep flowing like booze down Dom’s throat.
But after a hilarious car crash sequence – among the most memorable pieces of film imagery so far this year – the movie takes a turn for the sap. Although this second half, which mostly centers on Dom’s attempts at patching up with his estranged daughter, works at making the character a warmer, more sympathetic lug in the vein of Randy “The Ram,” it unintentionally softens the bite of the film. Thankfully, Law’s ferocious performance, arguably the best of his still-young career, keeps the audience in check, constantly reminding us that this isn’t a drama but a wild comedic crime caper we’re watching.
Director: Richard Shepard
Writer: Richard Shepard
Principal Cast: Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir, Emilia Clarke, Kerry Condon
Editing: Dana Congdon
Cinematography: Giles Nuttgens
Music: Rolfe Kent
Running time: 93 minutes
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Rating: R for sexual content, nudity, pervasive language, some violence and drug use.