Dom Hemingway wants you to know that his cock is exquisite. He’s staring at the camera, naked, arms raised in a Christ-like pose, telling us. Telling us how big and epic and otherworldly it is. His adjectives know no bounds, his metaphors no peaks. Then he’s finished. A prison bitch gets up off his knees, receives a swift apology from Dom (because, no warning), and from there, Dom Hemingway is off and running.
We meet Dom (Jude Law) as he’s being released from prison after a 12 year bit for robbery, safe cracking, and who knows what else. Dom’s time could’ve been considerably shortened had he rolled on his boss, Mr. Fontaine (Demián Bichir), but he kept his mouth shut, missing out on his only daughter’s formative years, and his wife’s death to cancer. Enraged by the amount of time spent away, Dom is sprung from the hoosegow and demands reimbursement in the form of pure coke, loose women, and stacks of dough.
Once released, Dom’s first thought is to visit the poor bastard who married his wife while Dom was in prison. He beats the man senseless (a graphic scene impressively captured in just a few well choreographed shots), before going about his evening. He meets up with his old partner, Dickie (the ever delightful, always insightful, Richard E. Grant), gets absolutely shitfaced, and spends the next three days indulging in some of those precious reimbursements. Three days later, while suffering a hangover Dom likens to “a fucking Manila disco full of transvestites and suckling pigs,” Dom and Dickie travel to meet Mr. Fontaine to collect Dom’s money.
Plot? Yeah, sure, there’s some, but I wouldn’t advise you to see the movie for it. As fun as it is to watch Dom Hemingway have something to do, the true beauty of the film is watching Jude Law do anything at all. As Dom, Law is a sheer revelation. I’ve long considered Law a slight actor with fleeting moments of greatness (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Closer, Sleuth and Side Effects are examples of his best work), but nothing prepared me for Dom Hemingway. Dom is the anti-Jude Law: filthy, disgusting, a boorish pig with a short temper and an insatiable thirst. The actor not only gained 30 pounds to inhabit the part, he gained a new sense of himself. A confidence that I never knew he had in him, a go-for-broke fearlessness that I found enthralling. Whatever horrible shit Dom says and does, it is clear that Jude Law is having a blast saying and doing it.
As mentioned, Richard E. Grant is as sarcastic and charming as you want him to be, Bichir plays an affable psychopath always on the edge of boiling over, and Emilia Clarke brings a particularly spirited amount of bile to her role as Dom’s daughter. The writer/director of the film, Richard Shepherd, has had equal success with feature films (Pierce Brosnan delivered a similarly revelatory performance in Shepard’s wonderfully vulgar film, The Matador) and television (he directed Girls’ most infamous episode, “One Man’s Trash”), and his script for Dom Hemingway certainly doesn’t disappoint. An actor is only as good as the material he’s given, and thankfully, Dom Hemingway is a perfect union between script and performer.
Dom Hemingway isn’t very insightful cinema, but I would argue that it isn’t trying to be. Sure, its titular character gains a heart that nearly grows as large as his temper (nearly), but the point is, Dom Hemingway is a very specific type of film – loud, raging, frenzied and mad. Know what you’re getting yourself into, and you’ll do just fine. B