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Dom Hemingway (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

Dom Hemingway


Starring Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir, Emilia Clarke, Kerry Condon, Jumayn Hunter, Madalina Ghenea, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Richard Graham, Nick Raggett, Katiana Taylor, Collette Morrow, Philippe Pierrard, Claire Viville, Jordan Nash and Grant Russell.

Screenplay by Richard Shepard.

Directed by Richard Shepard.

Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures. 93 minutes. Rated R.

Antiheroes definitely have a place in movies.  Let’s face it, sometimes screwed-up losers are much more interesting than happy, settled, evolved characters.

However, it can be something of a balancing act.  How far can you go into the dark side without totally losing your audience?  How far into the muck will the film go?  Will it be alright to introduce the character by having him doing a lilting soliloquy to his cock?  Will it push the envelope to show him drunk or high nearly the entire length of the movie?  Will it be going too far to reveal that one of his previous crimes was killing a house cat?

The title character in Dom Hemingway is played in a full-on Guy Ritchie tough lather by Jude Law.  It’s a terrific job of creating an almost completely unlikable character.  Dom is not merely volatile in his volcanic fits of anger, he often seems either stupid or suicidal.  He gets himself into constant scrapes and danger because he can not filter a thing he says or does – particularly when he is drunk or high.

He disrespects and tells off killers, gangsters, bosses, old friends, jail guards, women, barkeeps and anyone else who disagrees with him about just about anything.  And then he goes off alone and beats himself up for having the worst luck in the world.

Note to Dom: If you don’t go out of your way to piss off every single person who crosses your path, maybe some more good things will come his way.

But, okay, that is the character we are following.  So the question remains, is the story interesting and empathetic enough that the audience will overlook the general douchiness of our protagonist?

The answer is: Yes, somewhat.

Dom Hemingway is a flawed but mostly interesting entry into the British gangster genre, and that specific style tends to specialize in explosive alpha-male types.  Writer/director Richard Shepard, the man behind The Matador, is clever enough to drop his Neanderthal antihero in the middle of a gently comic and surreal thug life, where most everyone around him is more understanding of fate’s whimsical qualities than Dom ever could be.

Dom is the bull in the china shop, mostly harming himself at every turn.  As the press notes diplomatically describes the character, Dom is “a larger-than-life safecracker with a cocky swagger who is witty, unhinged and full of piss and vinegar.”  Other, more powerful men look at him with a certain amount of bemusement.  They realize they should probably just kill him to shut him up, but he is oddly entertaining to them.

Dom Hemingway opens with the protagonist in jail, finishing up a 12-year stretch because he refused to sell out his boss, the elegant and vicious gangster Mr. Fontaine, played with panache by Demian Bechir of A Better Life and The Bridge.  (Bichir is wonderful in the role as always, but his character, who is supposed to be Russian, seems to have an accent which skews much closer to Bichir's natural Mexican background than Moscow.) 

The first thing Dom does out of prison is go beat the crap out of the man who married Dom's wife after she divorced him in prison – and who nursed the wife through her fatal bout with cancer and later raised Dom's estranged daughter Evelyn (Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones) as his own.

Then Dom finds his best buddy Dickie (Richard E. Grant) at the pub.  Dickie still works for Mr. Fontaine, and under Mr. Fontaine's orders sets up Dom on his first taste of freedom with two hookers and unlimited drugs for a weekend blowout.  Then Dom and Dickie travel to Mr. Fontaine's French Riviera villa, where the orgy of alcohol, drugs and women continue nearly unabated. 

Despite the fact that while stoned out of his mind, Dom wildly disrespects and offends Mr. Fontaine, the gangster appreciates Dom's loyalty and pays him well for his time behind bars.  However, a mixture of drug use and a sudden wild twist of fate separates Dom from his money and from future employment with Fontaine.

Therefore, Dom has to return to London and try to make a living.  While there, he also longs to reconnect with his now-grown daughter Evelyn, but he is too scared and she shows no interest in getting to know him.  Attempts to reintegrate himself to the underworld also go poorly, leaving Dom poor, desperate and homeless.

However, Dom Hemingway is not a film of personal redemption, per se.  In fact, right when it seems that Dom is calming down and learning to appreciate the simpler life of the straight and narrow, fate tosses him the opportunity to right a past wrong and his worst self reasserts itself and the guy is back to square one. 

Whether the person he avenges himself upon deserves what they get is debatable, yes and no both at the same time, I suppose.  However, instead of the film's expectation that the audience will enjoy this comeuppance, I couldn't help but feel disappointed with Dom for his reaction to the situation.  This guy has learned nothing from the people around him or his experiences.  He just can't help himself from being an asshole, even when he arguably is in the right.

Which is, I suppose, sort of the point of Dom Hemingway.  Some people are just irredeemable, no matter how hard they try.  Like I said at the beginning of the review, there is a place in the world for an antihero.  Dom Hemingway introduces us to a particularly well-spoken and pithy one.  I wouldn't want to spend time with Dom Hemingway at a pub, but he is kind of interesting to watch from the safety of a theater seat.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2014 All rights reserved. Posted: July 22, 2014.

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