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‘Dom Hemingway’ Review

Dom Hemingway Review
Fox Searchlight

The story of ‘Dom Hemingway’ is a familiar enough one – a tough-talking safecracker endures years in jail, thanks to keeping a locked jaw when it comes to the involvement of his mastermind boss, only to be let loose to commit one last job and do right by his family – but Richard Shepard’s energetic and entertaining spin on what could be just another genre picture, along with star Jude Law’s bold and amusing performance as the eponymous antihero, make ‘Dom Hemingway’ a heist film with its own unique heart.

That heart, however, is quite frequently black, and Law is tasked with portraying a hero that could otherwise be highly (no, really, highly) unlikable. Stuck in the big house for over a decade, Dom emerges from his sentence with a bad attitude and a major chip on his shoulder. Law gets more than a bit grubby for the role – Dom, it seems, used to be quite a looker, and the star plays with that and the expectations of his own looks to very humorous effect, complete with fake teeth and the approximation of a broken nose – and he quite easily slips into a very different skin than we’re used to seeing him in. A prolific safecracker, Dom took the fall for a big heist led by his boss Mr. Fontaine (Demain Bichir), and he’s spent the last twelve years waiting for his reward.

It won’t come easily.

Dom’s first order of business after his release is a personal errand: kicking the ass of the man who married his now-dead wife after he got sent to prison. “I got anger issues, I just do,” Dom slurs, and even as that’s fully obvious and more than a bit terrifying, Law is never less than totally engaging and deeply amusing in his role.

The film is essentially a character study disguised as a black comedy, and is littered with ever-important details about Dom. Dom is prone to delivering sprawling soliloquies that run the gamut, from one honoring the glory of his own manhood to another that enumerates the number of ways he screwed up his life. Dom must also grapple with a world that has changed since he got locked up, emerging into a one where laws against public smoking and his best friend’s (Richard E. Grant, who does wonderful work as a wacky sidekick with a plain-faced delivery) missing hand mystify him in equal measure. Dom has a thing for the ladies. Dom likes to drink. The trick of it is, Law is so damn good in the role, so game and almost plucky, that the whole thing is unspeakably funny.

The film plays out via a series of titled sections – chapters, really – that are told in a mostly linear fashion, though it’s easy to imagine each as a standalone short about Dom’s raucous life. Dom has plenty he wants to accomplish now that he’s free, including getting that reward, pulling off one last heist, and reinserting himself into the life of his daughter (Emilia Clarke, underused but quite charming when she does pop up) and her own family (including a cute grandson, played by the adorable Jordan A. Nash).

Yet, ‘Dom Hemingway’ suffers from an uneven tone and a criminally meandering second half, and even Law’s standout performance can’t make the entire thing coalesce in the right places. Shepard’s script isn’t quite tight enough to keep up the film’s early momentum, and a string of repetitive sequences weigh it down just as it should really be revving up for an eye-popping finale. But still, Law’s work here is so good – so funny, so full-bodied, so plain weird – that it’s hard not to just enjoy ‘Dom Hemingway’ for what it is: a mostly quick-witted black comedy with a captivating lead character who just might crack open your heart (and then your face for spouting off such cheeseball drivel).

‘Dom Hemingway’ is playing in theaters now. 

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