When we first encounter Dom Hemingway (Jude Law), he is addressing us while being “serviced,” if you will. It takes a moment for us to realize the nature of the “servicing” and the location, but it becomes quite clear that Dom is full of himself and enjoying the moment, because he is in the midst of an ode to the glories of his member. It is a stunning bit of gutter poetry — Shakespearean in places, lewd hardcore rap in other spots — that never cops to the level of mere pornography. What the monologue tells us is that Dom Hemingway, a hard-knock thief with a hair-trigger temper and a willingness to get his hands good and bloody if necessary, is also a grade or two away from the opportunities that education and culture would have bestowed upon him. He could have been a contender in that “other” more civilized world.
I couldn’t help thinking, during that opening bit, about another raging gangster — Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) from Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast. Law seems to be channeling some of the spittle-spewing passion of Kingsley’s Don, but we sense right away that Dom, despite seeing him deliver a cringe-inducing beatdown on the man who married his ex-wife while he was in prison (and dared to help raise Dom’s daughter during his absence), is a full step from the menacing edge of the abyss that Don took his lover’s leap of off long before we ever laid eyes on him.
Which means that Dom Hemingway (the film) is more of a redemptive story, the rambling and meandering tale of Dom’s life, post-incarceration. Can he find a straight and narrow path to tread, after he gets his rocks off proper and secures what he’s due for keeping his mouth shut and not ratting out his gangster boss (Demian Bichir)? And what about the daughter (Emilia Clarke) he left behind? Will he be able to reconnect with her and make up for the lost time?
Those are all compelling (enough) angles, but what truly matters is the state of Dom’s ego. The entire film plays much like that opening tribute to his penis, except the larger narrative exists to celebrate the name and idea of “Dom Hemingway.” You will not be able to forget his name, because Dom never misses an opportunity to tell us who he is. The world belongs to Dom Hemingway and we’re lucky that he’s willing to let us tag along for the ride.
On this track, Dom Hemingway offers itself up as a unique contrast to the British crime fiction works of J.J. Connolly. He wrote the screenplay for Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of his debut novel Layer Cake, which helped to vault Daniel Craig into the James Bond franchise driver’s seat. Connolly penned a follow-up (Viva La Madness), but the interesting thing about these stories is the length the drug-dealing protagonist (Craig in the film) goes in order to conceal his identity. He’s a master facilitator and guide through the rough trade of the underworld and its plethora of seedy characters, but he considers it his highest duty to keep his identity a secret, telling us at the very end of Layer Cake (the book), “My name? If I told you that you’d be as clever as me,” and he simply can’t have that.
Dom is a clever fellow too, but lacking, as I pointed out earlier, in the kind of refinement that, for instance, kept Craig’s savvy dealer in Layer Cake out of jail. All Dom has, or so he believes, is his name and his reputation. That is what drives Dom and we get to see and hear it like a drumbeat. As his life unravels, he repeatedly falls back on his name, asserting himself in the only way he knows how.
Will the name “Dom Hemingway” fail him? Not if Law and writer-director Richard Shepard (The Matador) have anything to say about things, and each man, in his own way, never seems at a loss for words. Law, even in the moments with his estranged daughter, maintains his command of off-color commentary with just enough of the offense edge taken off to hint at a degree of hard-won sensitivity. Curiously, the line Law treads here is not as fine as one might imagine, although that is merely a testament to his overall charm. And Shepard, with his extensive background in television, displays a comfort with shining necessary light on a dark character to expose the human heart within. (Opens Friday) (R)
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