Seeing Jude Law spread his actorly wings to create a lovable antihero is fun and endlessly watchable. The film around him, however, never coheres.
Very occasionally, an actor will be given license (usually by an empathetic auteur) to create a truly indelible movie character. Think of Jeff Bridges as The Dude in The Big Lebowski, or James Franco as Alien in Spring Breakers. Or, perhaps to make a more apt comparison to Dom Hemingway, Ben Kingsley as Don in Sexy Beast. These are characters that are so idiosyncratic, they often come to define the actors playing them. We can imagine a world with those people in them. They are the kinds of people who have essentially “reached the top of the mountain,” so to speak, and have no further dramatic changes to make in their lives. They are at peace with who they are at the film’s outset, and their drama comes from reacting to a staid and stodgy world, rather than needing to change internally.
Dom Hemingway, the character imagined by Jude Law and writer/director Richard Shepard (The Matador and The Hunting Party), is positioned as such a character, but is betrayed by his own film. Law – actively devouring scenery – sports a broken nose, a series of deliberately out-of-fashion leisure suits, and a violently feisty attitude that one rarely sees in feature films; The first few minutes of film are of Dom – clearly being fellated off camera – reciting a monologue about the power of his own genitals directly into the camera. A few minutes later, he is defying a prison guard with a string of creative cuss words. Ten minutes thereafter, he beats a man senseless in public. This is clearly a devil-may-care jerkwad of exhilarating proportions.
And much of Dom Hemingway’s pleasures come from watching Law so energetically flailing about the screen, using cuss words like flicked cigarettes, digging into his criminal lothario with unadulterated brio. Dom is an asshole, knows he’s an asshole, can’t help but be an asshole. And the world seems okay with that. When Dom meets friends of his – long separated from him after a stint in prison – they all welcome him back, eager to see his bad behavior on display again. Demian Bichir plays a dangerous criminal you don’t want to anger, and Dom seems innately determined to say the worst possible things. Richard E. Grant, as Dom’s best friend Dickie, seems to bear all the reason and guilt for him.
The pleasures, sadly, are ultimately limited by Dom Hemingway’s inability to put together interesting things for this swirling madman to do. He is a safe-cracker by trade, but the ultimate climax of the film doesn’t allow him to display his skills in an impressive way. He is alienated from his daughter (Emilia Clarke), but she is absent from the bulk of the film. Dom Hemingway seems to be spitballing its own screenplay as it goes, beginning plot threads and immediately dropping them a few minutes later, only to start a new one that will also be dropped. I can’t really tell you the plot of this movie, as it’s a collection of beginnings without any real conclusions.
As such, Dom Hemingway never really coheres into a proper tale, and Dom begins to feel insubstantial as an antihero. Not that such a character needs a story to shine (may I point you to Mike Leigh’s indie masterpiece Naked, and David Thewlis’ amazing misanthrope therein?), but it would be nice to have such a full-formed screen presence be pointed in a certain direction.
Rating: 2 Burritos