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Review: Dom Hemingway (2014)

Dom Hemingway (2014)

Directed by: Richard Shepard

Premise: A criminal is released from prison after serving a twelve year sentence in which he took the fall on behalf of a crime lord. Once freed, the ex-con indulges the freedom of the outside world and tries to reassemble his life.

What Works:  Actor Jude Law has generally played smooth and intelligent characters. He rarely plays people who are violent or stupid. That alone—a familiar actor playing against his public image—makes Dom Hemingway notable. But what’s more impressive here is just how terrific Jude Law is while playing against type. The title character of Dom Hemingway is a boisterous and violent man and Jude Law is so full of energy and so game for anything that he recalls other great performances in similar roles like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, and Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. Like those other great performances, Law is simultaneously despicable and fascinating and as awful as he is there’s no taking your eyes off of him. The story of Dom Hemingway is really a series of vignettes rather than a singular plotline but there is an overall structure and emotional arc to the film that gives it a narrative shape. The movie begins with Dom Hemingway blustering about his own inflated sense of self but with each misadventure his self-made myth gradually collapses and the facade crumbles away. What’s revealed in the process is that this man, as violent and crass and selfish as he may be, does have a consistent code of ethics. That integrity is highlighted by some of the unscrupulous characters that he meets who don’t share his sense of honor. That underlying integrity makes Dom Hemingway an attractive character, increasingly so as the movie proceeds. Dom Hemingway also features a notable supporting performance by Kerry Condon as a young woman who takes an interest in the title character. Condon is earnest in her role and although some of the things that she says are off the wall the character is an effective and authentic counterpoint to Dom Hemingway’s posturing. The other notable aspect of Dom Hemingway is its style. The opening third of the movie is cartoonish in the mold of The Wolf of Wall Street but even more so. But after beginning with this outrageous posture, the style of the movie changes, as does Jude Law’s performance, and as Dom realizes that his boorish behavior is not cute the moviemakers adjust the style of the picture to complement that epiphany. That allows the audience to laugh and even enjoy the violent and crass elements of the story but the movie also demonstrates a self-awareness of its title character’s stupidity and allows us to empathize with this otherwise horrible person.

What Doesn’t: When Jude Law’s performance and the stylistic flourishes are stripped from it, Dom Hemingway is actually a pretty familiar story of an ex-con getting out of prison and trying to put his life back together. As that, the story of Dom Hemingway comes in behind other movies with similar premises such as American History X and Ocean’s Eleven. The title character’s attempts to reunite with his daughter (Emilia Clarke) don’t really go anywhere, which in a way is refreshing because the filmmakers avoid a cliché and sentimental reunion. As Dom Hemingway constantly reminds everyone, he was away for twelve years and has missed the bulk of his daughter’s life and the filmmakers maintain their credibility by refusing to give him an easy redemption. But nevertheless, the plot of Dom Hemingway is pretty familiar. It’s the style, the humor, and the audacity of the film that make Dom Hemingway such a notable title and that is generally enough to get it by and make the film worthwhile.

DVD extras: Commentary track, featurettes, image gallery, featurettes, and trailers.

Bottom Line: Dom Hemingway is an audacious movie anchored by a terrific performance by Jude Law. The film is a credible tale of redemption that takes down a stupid formulation of masculinity while also having a laugh.

Episode: #510 (September 28, 2014)