TIFF 2013: ‘Dom Hemingway’ is an uneven mobster movie, though Jude Law shines
Written and directed by Richard Shepard
Richard Shepard’s Dom Hemingway has a premise worthy of a great mobster movie: a cockney safe-cracker is released after over a decade behind bars and sets out to retrieve his payout for not ratting out his mob employer. With Jude Law giving his all in the rage-fueled titular role and Richard E. Grant as a scene-stealing lackey/voice of reason, the film could have found itself in league with Goodfellas, Sexy Beast, and so on. Unfortunately, Dom Hemingway falters during the second half as sentiment sets in and levels the larger-than-life characters so much that even a miraculous stroke of luck can’t bring Dom or the story back to its previous heights. But the crash and slow burn is well worth it to see Jude Law at his raunchy best.
Twelve years in prison can do a lot to a man. Some find God, others get shived. Dom (Jude Law) and his rage only intensified, as his ex-wife died and his daughter Evelyn (Emilia Clarke) grew up without him. Once out, he’s a Michael Caine-sounding, garish three-piece suit-wearing pitbull ready for the attack. Even beating his ex-wife’s next husband to a pulp doesn’t quell his vein-throbbing anger. He wants what is owed to him and then some from the world and Mr. Fontaine (his boss), and even then, he will not be satisfied. Dom teams up with Dickie (Richard E. Grant), his handler of sorts, and sets out to the south of France to get his money, but not without a 3-day bender of booze, drugs, and hookers, making up for lost time. On an odd side note, the joy Dom has at lifting a hooker over his shoulder rivals that of a kid on Christmas morning.
After sharing some vulnerability on the Chunnel ride thanks to a miserable hangover (while somehow not chundering on Dickie’s suit), Dom is back to vulgar form when he walks on French soil; roughly ordering Mr. Fontaine’s chauffeur around, announcing to Dickie his intentions to screw Mr. Fontaine’s girlfriend, and more. Once on the estate and after Dom’s eye wanders onto Fontaine’s well-endowed girlfriend (Madalina Ghenea), the audience is finally introduced to Fontaine (Demian Bichir), looking down at Don in a moment too rich with symbolism to be ignored. Standing uphill with his shotgun and hunting jacket, Mr. Fontaine looks too much the part to be a member of the landed gentry, especially while exuding the sense that at any moment, he would just as easily shoot Dom as he would a rabbit. Putting these two together, trouble was bound to happen. Behaving like a petulant brute, Dom nearly insults and rages his way out of payment, at one point storming out onto the estate only to be talked back to the house by an exasperated Dickie. But somehow through the grace of Dickie’s level-headed-ness and Mr. Fontaine’s patience, Dom gets his money with interest and celebrates with champagne, cocaine, and a few hookers, including an American named Melody. It’s at this point that karma rears its ugly head not just for the characters, but for the film itself. Almost too fittingly in a slowed-down, freeze frame shot, it all goes downhill after Dom, Dickie, Mr. Fontaine and their assorted lady friends fly out of the car after an intoxicated and high Dom crashes it into a tree.
From then on, Dom grasps at straws from his money being stolen to winding up back in London broke and broken on Evelyn’s doorstep to trying to get a safe-cracking job with one of his former competitors, who still holds a bit of a grudge, to nearly being castrated. The film wants to chalk it all up to some cosmic sense in the universe, but that seems a bit of a cop-out and simply is not as captivating as a madman on the rampage. Your adrenaline is raised up only to be mumbled off into something about a man trying to redeem himself with the universe through his daughter and her family (including a biracial grandson). Who’s to blame? Melody (Kerry Condon), the hippy prostitute, who wanted to befriend Dom while on the job in France, whose life he saves after the crash and who then continues to chirp about karma when he spots her unexpectedly in London. Too bad they couldn’t have just kept Dom and Dickie’s partying with Mr. Fontaine go on for the rest of the film. After a heart-pumping first few segments (partially thanks to an awesomely punk soundtrack), the rest just feels like a letdown, outside of Dom’s graveside speech, which is one of the most heartbreaking moments to come out of this year’s TIFF.
It’s a shame that such vibrant, well-developed characters like Dom and Dickie (a role written for Grant) ended up with such a weak plotline, but maybe that’s part of the bigger meaning behind the film? But who wants a moral when you can have Jude Law and Richard E. Grant (funnily enough a teetotaler in real life) paired up for some good ol’ debauchery? Here’s a shot of Jameson/Jack/whatever your poison to Dom and Dickie Take Las Vegas!
– Diana Drumm