“A man with no options suddenly has all the options in the world,” goes the liquor-soaked advice of Dom Hemingway (Jude Law). And while he admits that he has no idea what that actually means, he nonetheless lives that credo to the fullest in Richard Shepard‘s wickedly wild and vulgar “Dom Hemingway.” It’s not a surprise that our first introduction to the character is during a monologue that he’s delivering on the magnificence of his own cock, a work of art in Dom’s mind, as he certainly has lived his own life with his dick in one hand, a bottle in the other, a cigarette in his mouth, cocaine up his nose and women with their legs spread, at the ready. But now there’s just one problem—he’s getting old.
It’s been twelve years since Dom went to prison protecting the name of his employer Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir), and his life has changed profoundly. His wife died of cancer while he was on the inside, while his daughter Evelyn (Emilia Clarke, Daenerys Targaryen on “Game of Thrones“) has grown up and started a new future without him. But before Dom has even begun to put his own personal situation back together, he’s got a score to settle. Mr. Fontaine owes him, so with his minder/sidekick Dickie (Richard E. Grant), he heads to France to collect what’s his. And as a package of barely contained fury and rage, with a mouth full of the most verbose insults you’ll ever hear, Dom sometimes has trouble containing himself. And he nearly talks his way out of the debt he’s collecting by pressing every one of Mr. Fontaine’s buttons. But in the end, Dom earns $750,000 pounds, all looks like it has been set right, and so a powder and alcohol-fueled party commences…only to end with Dom once again at rock bottom, and forced to seek revenge and redemption.
Mixing two parts Irvine Welsh, one part “Bronson,” a few dashes of perversity, all wrapped in a blanket of excess, Jude Law takes that bundle, bites heartily into the role of Dom, chews it up, swallows and pisses it right back out with glee. “Dom Hemingway” doesn’t work at all if it’s not cast right, but this is Law at the most outrageous and loutish as we’ve ever seen. Simply put, he’s a goddamn firecracker. Shepard gives him wide room to play, and a helluva character to tackle, and a beefed up, nicotine-stained Law has never been this larger than life on the big screen before, or as audaciously entertaining. He’s a foaming-at-the mouth, blast. And in a nice sly twist, it’s Grant—who made his name as a bounder in “Withnail & I“—playing the straight man here, and while he also gets some nice lines in, it’s actually his face that gets some the biggest laughs in the picture, as he reacts to Dom’s latest overreaction.
Episodic in nature, with a soundtrack of post-punk and punk hits, and an endearing recklessness and willingness to go over the line, this is the kind of movie that could easily be like any of the post-“Trainspotting” pictures that simply revel in foul language and illegal substances. And while “Dom Hemingway” certainly gets some entertaining mileage out of hedonistic abandon, Shepard’s film aims to achieve a bit more. While his behavior may not indicate otherwise, Dom has emerged from jail into a world where the code among criminals has changed, and even his criminal profession of safe-cracking is under threat thanks to advances in digital technology. All of his old friends and enemies are dead or have moved on, and Dom hopes so to, starting with Evelyn. But that would mean Dom curbing his selfish, self-destructive tendencies and starting to make it up Evelyn for his years as an absentee Dad.
While there’s no doubt that Shepard’s film is frequently laugh-out-loud funny and impressively, wittily written, with a finely tuned ear for the perfect bit of foul language, it stumbles slightly on the story side. For all the script’s inventiveness, there are some plot contrivances within that strain just a little too hard to wrap things up in a bow, and the movie doesn’t quite hit the dramatic notes it wants to. But that is easily forgiven, because Shepard—thanks to Law’s showy and impeccable turn—not only has a lot fun with its concept, but by the end, creates a character so detailed and textured that you’ll want to see what the next chapter and journey in his life will be, and where it leads him next. Again, it’s thanks to Law’s work that allows us to spend time with this character as a total ass, and later as an ass attempting to make amends, and have his arc feel genuine and earned.
Ultimately, “Dom Hemingway” is about a man learning to take responsibility for what he has, rather than trying to keep getting what he thinks he deserves. But don’t let that sober and concluding statement on the film’s themes confuse you because even if that doesn’t connect, the brazenly R-rated and devilish picture is a big piece of raunchy entertainment, that goes down like a night of whiskey and beer, but without the hangover, coupled with a desire to watch ‘Dom’ do it all over again. [B+]
This is a reprint of our review from the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.