Dom Hemingway – A Review


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.

Wither the pro- in protagonist?

I just read a review of the new movie The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and one of the complaints is that the lead character, the one after whom the movie is named, the protagonist is completely unlikeable. As the reviewer states about the seminal moment in the movie, “it’s too late for Burt or the movie to win back audience affections, on or off the screen.”

This highlights a problem I find in a lot of movies right now: there is nobody to like or cheer for.

I appreciate that this is all personal opinion and tastes differ. What I will write next may totally rankle with your own opinions. Cool.

In too many movies I see of late, I walk out of the theatre dissatisfied because I could find no one for whom to root. And for me, I need to root for someone when I spend time with a story.

Stoker? I found none of the characters likeable or in any way redeeming.

Prometheus? I want them all dead at the end. The closest I came to cheering for anyone was the robot.

I understand that the root “proto-“ means leading or first rather than in favour of and so each of the main characters of these movies fulfills the role of protagonist, but that doesn’t make me any happier with these films.

Hell, in the two films I named above, I couldn’t even cheer for the antagonist, as I did with Alan Rickman’s character in Die Hard (I’ll never be a Bruce Willis fan).

Decades ago, anti-heroes became all the rage (think Clint Eastwood in practically anything), and I thought that worked well. Unforgiven was a great movie.

But somewhere along the line, the world-cynical smarm of the anti-hero turned into two-dimensional self-absorbed slime.

Yes, we are supposed to see the protagonist fall a few pegs as their world collapses around them only to watch them triumph (or not) in the end. If I like the character, my heart bleeds for them at every crisis, at every moment of conflict, whether internal or external.

If I don’t like the character, however, I either don’t care about their knocks or I take sadistic pleasure in it.

On some level, I think it’s lazy writing. Rather than find interesting ways to show the internal humanity of the protagonist through a cloud of jack-assedness, the writer bets the farm on swaying the audience with a massively redemptive climax, where the protagonist makes some life-altering self-sacrifice and does the right thing.

As the reviewer above alludes, however, the writer runs the risk that it’ll be too little too late.

So please, screenwriters, let’s agree. I will try harder and you’ll try harder. It’s win-win.