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Fox Searchlight Pictures // R // April 2, 2014
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
Some filmmakers follow the rules that the Hollywood studios have created and formed into genres, while others see it as a challenge to go against the grain. When a filmmaker utilizes alternative means to tell their story, I have a certain respect for them. However, just because something is a bit different, that doesn't make it a masterpiece. Dom Hemingway is a perfect example of this. Even though it might be different than some are expecting it to be, that doesn't make it a brilliant piece of filmmaking. In this case, the tone will be sure to turn many viewers away. While I was able to take away with enough positive opinions, writer/director Richard Shepard has created a flawed picture that tends to overindulge in its own vulgarity.
Twelve years is a long time, and Dom Hemingway (Jude Law) has been forced to spend that time in prison for keeping his mouth shut about one of the most dangerous men in Europe. Dom is a notorious safe-cracker, who returns to the streets of London with a set of very clear goals in mind. He believes that his most important mission is to collect on the large sum of money that he's owed from his boss. Underneath his tough and brutal exterior, Dom deeply desires to rekindle a relationship with his now adult daughter, Evelyn (Emilia Clarke). However, she hates him for all of the pain and suffering that he has caused throughout her life.
The very first scene in Dom Hemingway is a good indicator as what is to come for the remainder of the running time. Our title character stands in his prison cell, as he gives a full monologue about the greatness of his pecker. You'll learn insanely quickly how openly raunchy this film continues to be throughout the picture. However, Shepard's dialogue here is quite witty and humorous. Even though you might not find yourself laughing out loud, there are many chuckles to be had, with the opening scene being included in this statement. As the story continues to build, audiences bounce from one extreme to another, as Dom tries to make up for twelve years in a matter of a few days. Even though his antics are definitely focused upon quite often, there is a plot that remains front and center. Dom Hemingway poses as a feature about retrieving what the title character believes to be his, but it's truly about a man becoming responsible for his actions. Everything bets on whether you feel that there are any redeeming values to this character.
There isn't a clear way to define Dom, but the word "crude" would have to be worked in there somewhere. The more insane things get, the more he begins to realize where his life is headed. He lost twelve years of his life for keeping his mouth shut, and he must learn to accept that and move forward. For this character, that is a huge revelation that simply doesn't seem plausible without layers of different situations where he must see the errors of his ways. Even in a film that bathes in its over-the-top nature, the transitions must feel natural and true. In Dom Hemingway, they appear to be just that, at least for a period of time. Writer/director Richard Shepard is able to flow from raunchy and insulting to sentimental and raw. He even manages to make audiences feel for his character throughout these sequences, but he fails in his consistency. Just when you start to get behind a change in story or character motivation and begin to believe in it, Shepard makes a new twist that throws everything off. This ultimately makes for a picture that feels too unstable for its own good.
Several side-trips that appear to simply be present for laughs prove to hold some meaning. These sequences are actually some of the funniest that the film has to offer, while still providing some background on a character that we believe we had all figured out. Even though Dom appears to be a one-dimensional brute, he has more layers to him than initially expected. Once writer/director Richard Shepard gets on a roll, there's no stopping him. The dialogue will suddenly become quick and witty, and you'll find yourself completely engaged. Once again, the unnecessary bold changes pull us right back out. While Dom Hemingway might not be the most unique film on the market, it has very different ways of getting to familiar scenarios. This is how Shepard goes against the rules of Hollywood, although it ultimately makes for an artificial experience with moments of raw emotion that should have been utilized further.
With both an inconsistent character and screenplay, you might be wondering what keeps this film afloat. The answer to that question is in the casting. Jude Law is absolutely spectacular as the title character. He's been in supporting roles over the past few years, but this is his opportunity to be the star of the film. Law has proven that he can command the screen in a way that few others can. He's entirely believable and makes his share of the dialogue come across much better than it actually is. He actually fixes a lot of what is wrong with this character with his very bold representation. Emilia Clarke might not have as much screen time as one would imagine, but she does a good job with the time that she has in the role of Evelyn. It's a shame that she isn't given more material, but she clearly pulls a lot of energy out of Law through the more emotional scenes had between a father and his daughter.
Dom Hemingway has a very distinctive style that can best be described as retro. Filmmaker Richard Shepard utilizes a very colorful picture and makes sure that the visuals are noticed with the insanely bright reds that dominate the screen when present. There are a lot of comedic elements seen throughout in the use of set design and slow-motion shots that work quite nicely. There isn't anything to complain about when it comes to the visuals, as it hits every mark intended. The screen is just as loud and busy as Dom himself, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. We're constantly kept in a blinding whirlwind that represents the one that Dom is stuck in, all while looking stylish and successful through its costume design and cinematography.
Needless to say, there's a lot wrong with Dom Hemingway. A lot of these issues could have only been fixed by entirely re-writing the screenplay in order to provide a more consistent narrative that maintains its good use of character transitions throughout the duration of the film. Even with all of the major problems, Jude Law is undeniably the powerhouse that drives this feature. Hopefully this shows filmmakers that Law is an underrated talent that can handle more leading roles. If you're easily offended, this one definitely isn't for you. However, if you know what to expect, then you might just find yourself enjoying it. Dom Hemingway overindulges in its loud vulgarity, but at least it's never dull. Rent it, even if only for Jude Law's performance.