Dom Hemingway, the latest film from The Matador director Richard Shepard, opens with Jude Law, as the movie’s eponymous protagonist, nude, receiving oral sex from a fellow prison inmate, and monologizing on the wonders of his… manhood. The scene effectively sets the tone of Dom Hemingway, while clearly conveying that this Jude Law performance will be like nothing you have seen before. Contrasting sharply with the appealing charmer Law often plays, Dom is verbose and vulgar, often bloviating well beyond the point of no return. Dom is a man from another time, trying to find a place in the now.
The plot – thin as it is – follows Dom as he leaves prison, reunites with his friend Dickie (Richard E. Grant), seeks recompense from the man he went away to protect (Demián Bichir), and tries to form a relationship with the daughter he barely knows (Emilia Clarke). It is all pretty rote, so the weight lies on Law to make the whole thing work. And he does a pretty good job.
Aside from the physical transformation involved in embodying the character, Law also creates a personality distinct from any he has played before. Dom is not a good man; aside from going to jail for completely legitimate reasons, he is also vain, selfish, and angry. There is a sense that Dom wants to change, but he just can’t get there. Law plays the big stuff perfectly. His performance verges on being over the top from time to time, but it is all completely in character. It is the quieter moments that feel forced. Who can say whether Law or Shepard’s script is more to blame for this? Dom’s emotional moments in the feature’s final reel aren’t fully realized by Law, but they are also hit over and over again by a script that doesn’t trust the actor enough to convey them adequately the first time.
The movie is best when it allows itself to be funny. Most of these moments come in the interactions between Dom and Dickie, whose easy chemistry is excellently portrayed by Law and Grant. Unfortunately the rest of the supporting cast doesn’t get the same chance to impress that Grant does. Bichir’s Mr. Fontaine is a stereotypical crime boss in his limited screentime, and Clarke is a similarly one-dimensional scorned daughter in what might add up to five minutes of the movie.
The conceit of the film has Dom jumping from place to place and person to person, so all of this is forgivable to an extent. While it would be nice to get more characterization (the female roles are especially under-served), Dom Hemingway‘s main interest is not story or even a character arc. It’s Dom Hemingway.
As the opening moments attest, Dom considers himself a larger than life figure. A mythological beast, ripe for immortalization. And perhaps this was the case before he went to prison for 12 years, but that just is not so anymore. As he walks around modern-day London in a suit that no longer fits contemporary fashion or his body, he looks like a relic. The world kept spinning while Dom got buff and got buffed in the big house. Dom has to change just to keep up, unless he can find room for the old ways in his new reality.
Dom Hemingway is as infatuated with its main character as he is with himself. Dom didn’t make me swoon, but there is something very compelling about his raging charisma. Or maybe it is just his museum-quality genitals. It is hard to say.