CAST: Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demián Bichir, Emilia Clarke, Jumayn Hunter, Madalina Ghenea, Kerry Condon, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett
RUNNING TIME: 93 mins
BASICALLY…: Freshly released from prison, violent safecracker Dom Hemingway (Law) seeks a hefty reward for not ratting out his criminal associates only to things spit back in his face…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
You know you’re in for a rough ride when the very first shot is of Jude Law, in character as the vicious and violent titular character, staring directly at us as he goes on and on about the size of his appendage. It’s weird, uncomfortable to watch, and goes on and on without much of a solid point. In a way, it sums up most of Dom Hemingway.
As far as British caper black comedies go, this one is far from the bottom pile but also nowhere near the higher end of the spectrum. It’s completely standard, though nothing outstanding. The phrase, we suppose we’re looking for, is that it’s just “okay”.
Like a lot of films nowadays that feature a respected actor and metaphorically make them ugly – James McAvoy in Filth, Tom Hardy in Bronson, Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast et al – the actor inhabiting said vile role is easily the most entertaining aspect of it. Law is unquestionably committed to the part and does a fine job of bringing to life such a violent sociopath onto the screen right out of writer/director Richard Shepard’s screenplay. However, he falls short of previous similar turns by McAvoy and Hardy for one solid reason. With those two actors, McAvoy especially, their repulsive behaviours felt very natural and believable because they brought about an individual – albeit twisted – sense of charm and charisma to their roles. We actually gave a damn about them. Law, however, is not as much charming or charismatic as he is just repellent. It’s like he watched films like Bronson and Sexy Beast, but didn’t quite pick up on why those performances still rang bells in the minds of viewers and instead just went all out in being as disgusting and uncomfortable as possible. Not only that, but there’s something about Law’s performance here that just feels a little… off. Every passing minute, his character’s behaviour seems like an act brought on by an insecure man trying desperately to be as wild and totally not insecure at all. And yet, still comes across as an insecure man. As hard as Law tries here, and he really does try his damnedest, it doesn’t feel believable enough to make us feel or care for him. If anything, we’re turned off even more by him when the film’s sentimental moments expect us to warm to him. It’s a good try by a talented actor like Law, but it doesn’t really work for him here.
Of course, Shepard’s script focuses on Dom Hemingway’s antics and scenarios throughout the entire film, meaning we get little precious time with other, more interesting characters. Richard E. Grant is particularly underused as Hemingway’s partner-in-crime, a flamboyant and well-spoken sidekick with only one hand. After the film’s more engaging first half in which he features heavily, he’s all but tossed to the side completely and disappears after the climax, never to be seen again. Whenever the camera cuts to him as he stands by doing next to nothing, you wonder why the film wasn’t about him instead. Demián Bichir also features heavily in the first half as Hemingway’s crime lord boss, and he brings some gravitas to an otherwise by-the-numbers archetype; and Emilia Clarke turns out to have been a mostly pointless casting decision since her character – Hemingway’s estranged daughter – is only in maybe five scenes in total. Perhaps that was down to the actress’s commitments on Game of Thrones, but if the role is not that big then why did they bother casting her in the first place?
Shepard’s direction is uneven at worst, struggling to find the right tone and feel for many scenes, although he does insert a decent amount of tension whenever it is called for (a scene near the end of the film where Hemingway races against the clock to open a safe for a criminal’s son (Jumayan Hunter) is a fine example of when it works well). But perhaps his biggest falter is his script, which like its protagonist does not settle for what seems already perfect and instead aspires for more than it can chew. Scenes like aforementioned opening shot go on for much longer than they need to because of extended monologues and duologues that waffle a great deal without serving much purpose to the story. Characters’ motivations remain unclear and come off instead as them doing what they do because they’re just horrible people. When a valuable item is stolen from Hemingway at the end of the first half and he confronts the thief before they get away, the thief tries to justify their crime by not wanting to live in poverty but to us such a motivation has come out of nowhere and it becomes more a case of “because the plot says so.”
By the film’s end, we’re left with a typical chance of redemption for the main character but for us, Dom Hemingway does not feel like it needs redemption and should be seen as a British crime movie that’s passable to say the least.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Despite strong intentions, including a committed performance by Jude Law, Dom Hemingway comes off as slightly weak in comparison to other films like Filth, Bronson or Sexy Beast, although it remains nowhere near bad and fits nicely into the “okay” category. We would say it’s at least worth a rental, but Blockbuster’s recent descending into administration makes that statement a little difficult. When it does, catch it on Netflix or wherever it ends up. Either way, it doesn’t make that much of a difference.