Dom Hemingway

I unreservedly love Richard Shepard’s Dom Hemingway, and I strongly urge everyone with a taste for quirky, dark crime comedy of the British variety to beat a path to The Carolina to see this unabashedly vulgar and wildly creative movie. It deals in matters both profane and, finally, sacred. And while the accent is certainly on the profane, the film has redemption on its mind. This is a movie that begins with over a minute of Dom Hemingway (Jude Law) waxing rhapsodic over the wonders and delights of his male member. That alone will probably clue you in on whether or not Dom Hemingway is something you’d care to see. (And if it doesn’t, the payoff to this particular monologue will.) The reason I urge haste in this matter lies in my suspicion that the film will vanish quickly. This is a movie that ought to have been screened for local critics, but it slipped through the cracks and wasn’t. It’s the kind of movie that would have benefited from some critical push — and it didn’t get it in time for that all-important opening weekend.

If you saw Shepard’s 2005 film The Matador you have some idea of what Dom Hemingway is like tonally — but Dom Hemingway is even better. As the film’s tagline puts it, “Jude Law is Dom Hemingway, and you’re not.” (Before the film is over you’ll probably be glad you’re not.) Law really is — or seems to be — Dom Hemingway. I’ve always thought of Law as an underappreciated actor, but this is unlike anything he’s done, and he truly inhabits the role to the point that Law completely disappears. All you see on that screen is Dom Hemingway in all his hot-headed, vulgar, oversexed, egotistical glory. There is just an undercurrent that deep down, Dom knows he’s a blowhard, a failure and his own worst enemy. (There is no shortage of applicants for the title of Dom’s worst enemy.) The only thing Dom seems to have going for him is the friendship of the sardonic and enigmatic Dickie Black (the great Richard E. Grant in his best role in 20 years).

When the film opens, Dom is just getting out of prison after a 12-year stint for safecracking, and the 12 years have cost him dearly. His wife has died, and his daughter has grown to hate him. Naturally, from his point of view, the first thing he does upon his release is beat up the man who took up with his wife during his incarceration. Only then does he, with the help of Dickie, set out to get what he’s owed by his old boss and underworld kingpin, Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir). Despite Dom’s drunken abuse and demands — not to mention openly lusting after Fontaine’s girlfriend, Paolina (Madalina Ghenea) — Fontaine remains gracious. Not only does he pony up the 250,000 pounds Dom’s owed for keeping his mouth shut, but he throws in the 500,000-pound present Dom wants. More, Fontaine provides hookers, booze and endless cocaine by way of celebration.

Unforunately, this ends in a wild car ride and crash, in the aftermath of which, Dom’s money is stolen by Paolina while he’s busy saving the life of genially ditzy hooker, Melody (Kerry Condon, This Must Be the Place). All he gets for his trouble is Melody’s assertion that when you save someone’s life it means good fortune will befall you when you most need it and least expect it. And this is where Dom’s troubles — and his possible redemption — really begin. Broke and bitter, Dom tries to put his life back together in a number of obviously ill-advised, and sometimes very funny, ways that tend to be not only fruitless but often dangerous.

 While all this gives you some idea of the story of Dom Hemingway, it does nothing to reveal the boundless cinematic creativity of the film, which comes as something of a surprise, since for all its merits, The Matador was never especially striking as filmmaking. This is something else again with its bold colors, inventive lighting and fluid movements. Nor does the mere story reveal the nearly poetic profanity of Shepard’s screenplay. It’s one thing to pepper a script with swearing, it’s something altogether different to make it clever and funny. But beyond all this, a reading of the plot doesn’t even afford a glimpse of the curious warmth that lies just beneath the constant bickering between Dom and Dicky, or suggest the undercurrents of Dom’s absurd character — or the generous heart that beats inside this dark comedy. In other words, see this movie.
-KEN HANKE, MOUNTAIN XPRESS, ASHEVILLE N.C.
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