Monday, April 7, 2014

Dom Hemingway


Grade: 61/B-

Dom Hemingway loves his penis. That’s the first thing we learn in Dom Hemingway, in an opening scene that features Jude Law shirtless, sweaty, and clearly getting a blowjob as he rants about how his cock should be declared a work of art, and that wars should be fought over it. A cell window is in the corner of the frame, but prison hasn’t stopped this safecracker from getting off or diffused his ego. In the next scene, Dom starts an argument with a guard who wants him to put down his pudding and get a message, insulting him endlessly until he relents, only to find out that the guard is there to give him good news, that’s he’s getting out following 12 years in prison.

These scenes establish an enjoyably wackadoo tone for Dom Hemingway, the new film from The Matador director Richard Shepard. Like that earlier film, Dom Hemingway works best as a vehicle to see a star (Pierce Brosnan in the former, Law here) take his persona to hilariously venal heights. Law has played nasty characters before (the entitled rich kid of The Talented Mr. Ripley, I Heart Huckabees’s soulless shill), but here he tones down the megawatt smile and cranks up the nastiness. Dom’s the kind of guy who’s skills as a safecracker can’t quite live up his legendary hedonism or his habit of insulting or threatening anyone who comes across him.

Dom Hemingway is never more entertaining than when pitting Dom against more subdued criminals and watching them react. Richard E. Grant is a terrific foil Dom’s erudite but long-suffering best friend, while the polite under-reactions of Demian Bichir (as the Russian crime boss who owes Dom for not naming him) to Dom’s volatility are a great contrast to Grant’s constant state of exasperation. It’s true that most of Dom Hemingway plays as a serious of episodes (separated by title cards like “12 Years is a Long Time”) without too much on their mind, but the episodes are consistently funny, so it’s hard to care too much.

At least, that’s the way it plays for the first 45 minutes of the film. At a certain point in the narrative, Shepard makes the mistake of humanizing Dom by giving him an estranged daughter (Game of Thrones’s Emilia Clarke). It’s a maudlin development that feels at odds with the inspired lunacy of the first half, and the film inelegantly shifts back and forth between the two. For every sequence of Law going wild (highlight: betting that he can open a safe, putting his beloved penis up as his bet, and humping the safe to get it open), there’s a painful scene of a hardened criminal getting weepy over how he treated his daughter and deceased wife. But even for all of its missteps, Dom Hemingway is held together by Law’s fearlessly abrasive performance and charisma. Dom might be a bastard, but for the best stretches of the film, he’s our bastard.

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