A redemption story of a career criminal who has played the game by an unwritten code, who has done his best to do right by people within the criminal world and been screwed at every turn. The only people he hasn’t done right by, in fact, are his ex-wife and daughter, whom he completely screwed over. (Trailer)
Written and directed by Richard Shepard, who brought us The Matador, Dom Hemingway works on so many levels—from its amazing opening soliloquy (no better way to describe it), through astounding montages of decadence that can only be described as balletic, to tender moments of friendship punctuated with foul language.
But sadly, because it works on so many levels, the places where it doesn’t are glaring. And there is perhaps no bigger failure than the actual story.
There is no doubt that Shepard can write. His use of words to express universal ideas and human frailty are musical. Unfortunately, those skills only serve to create islands of poetry in a story that slowly drowns in conflicting tides. The movie bogs down into little more than a series of fortunately/unfortunately vignettes that ultimately don’t go anywhere.
Likewise, the moment we leave the criminal aspects of the story and Dom has to face the wreck that is his life and relationships, the dialogue becomes wooden and cliché.
Even the redemption angle is eventually undercut by additional scenes that suggest Dom has learned little. Not sure what Shepard’s thought was here—that people don’t really change, perhaps—but it might simply be an unverbalized acknowledgement of Shepard’s own limitations.
The performances of Jude Law and Richard E. Grant cover for many of the story flaws. Law’s Dom is a man who can’t get out of his own self-destructive behaviours long enough to actually succeed and let his skills prove himself. Grant, meanwhile, plays the long-suffering conscience who just wants his friend to be happy, but doesn’t have the energy to watch Dom implode in his own fear yet again. Unfortunately, the minute these amazing men leave the screen, the movie flat lines.
(Side note: Just before the movie started, the theatre screened an ad for Filth (trailer). It was amazing how similar the lead characters of the two movies appear, as Law seemed to be channelling his inner James McAvoy at times.)
Perhaps the best way to describe Dom Hemingway is to say you will feel energized watching it, but a little empty of dissatisfied as you leave the theatre.
I wanted this movie to be better. I wanted it to be the best movie I’d seen all year, the most complete movie. Alas, it wasn’t.