Recently we’ve been asked as audience members to endure some of the most vile characters imaginable, who have been our entry way into unpleasant stories. Dom Hemingway, the ugliest and loudest of the bunch is in fact the most proud of himself and also the nicest. Why? Because even he knows the people that surround him don’t have one tenth the soul and charm he possesses. In the case of Dom Hemingway, character and dialogue is paramount and narrative is his bitch. My review after the jump.
Dom (Jude Law) has been in prison for twelve years for not snitching on his employers identities, after he was busted on a safe cracking gig. His employer, is mob boss Mr Fontaine (Demian Bichir), a wealthy kingpin living in a villa in one of the nicer areas of Europe. After staying loyal for so long, Dom’s finally released from jail, and of course, wants to find Mr Fontaine and ask for his rightful compensation. Dom’s best and possibly only friend is Dickie (Richard E Grant), who awaits Dom’s return to the cold, aesthetically unappealing streets of London. Of course, Dom loves booze, drugs and women (whom he’s more courteous to than anyone else) so after an unrelenting rendezvous with all three, Dom and Dickie make their way to visit Mr Fontaine. What occurs next is a series of unlucky occurrences involving old thug associates and his daughter, whom he hasn’t seen in 12 years and who wants nothing to do with him. Dom’s obnoxious façade of a tough demeanour is quickly and endlessly challenged once he is clear of prison, and we are able to see just how genuinely sweet he is and also how inventive one can be with a profanity and a 6 pack.
Richard Shepard is one of the most underrated writers and directors currently working. His obsession with male protagonists who are defined by their wit and unfiltered/unashamedly uncensored perspective on the world and their own self appearance, is one he has carried with him on his last two pictures, The Matador (2005) and The Hunting Party (2006) (The latter being an under appreciated near masterpiece). Shepard, with Hemingway can now officially deem himself an ultimate master of the façade of masculinity and the protagonist that embodies this. It works and we revel in it as an audience because Shepard’s tender adoration for these flawed, unappealing (on surface level) protagonists, installs a genuine heart and soul to all of them. They’re real men and real people because of their appreciation of women and their entire disregard for the dull and subdued. They’re not heroes, they don’t carry weapons, they’re more than likely to make a remark regarding how much a gun resembles a penis. That’s his characters, that’s what they do, so how is Dom Hemingway different from his previous endeavours?
The plot is almost non-existent. The story is entirely, and I mean entirely, built around character motivation and response. Nothing is pre-ordained it merely happens as Dom decides to say and/or do something; and it ultimately becomes a truly great film in doing this, where nothing is gimmick and everything is essential. When you’re stuck with what society would consider a loser, why should they have the privilege of a plot to function around? Dom is a loser for the choices he makes, not for who he is. It takes the film’s entire 93 minutes for us to know who this person really is and why he is a three-dimensional, complex character who need the time to prove it. Although his appearance will convince you otherwise, Shepard’s immaculate screenplay reverses all pre-conceived, judgemental notions we may have when we first lay eyes on him. Isn’t that essentially what a great screenplay does?
This is Jude Law’s greatest performance, by leaps and bounds. Anyone who could even think this is an easy role to play has never had to deliver a monologue devised ENTIRELY on insults and extreme profanities and make it a character revelation. He never changes nor asks for forgiveness or remorse. Not an easy feat by any means. Richard E Grant as his faithful, funny and charming companion more than convinces us that he and Dom would be friends in this world or any other and gives us more and more reasons to want to spend more time with Dom. He’s not in any way a comic relief or a side kick, he’s much too intelligent and strong in his own right to be as such. Emilia Clarke, is unfortunately given much less to do than the others but still convinces as Dom’s unimpressed yet determined daughter, who embodies a character of strength and independence on her own. As for Demián Bachir, need I say more?
From the wonderful, exuberant colour palette and overall style of Hemingway (which show that no beautiful colour scheme can distract from an ugly cesspool of greed and unkindness) to an opening scene which defies all fallacies and misconceptions of masculinity and toughness in film, Dom Hemingway is the film and a character that redefine simplistic convention merely by existing on its own terms yet maintaining a large soul and heart that can’t be forgotten or avoided…even by a protagonist who humps a wall safe for two minutes straight.
Don’t be fooled, by the end you’ll adore Dom more than he adores himself.
By Chris Elena
Director: Richard Shepard
Writer: Richard Shepard
Starring: Jude Law, Richard E Grant, Emilia Clarke, Demián Bichir
Runtime: 93 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: March 20 2014; USA: April 4 2014