‘Dom Hemingway’ is a winning film about a loser
The name Hemingway conjures up the image of a larger-than-life, hairy-chested he-man who writes books filled with sparse prose. But that’s not the guy found in “Dom Hemingway,” a new crime drama written and directed by Richard Shepard.
Sure, Dom is larger-than life and filled with bravado. But this drunken brawler is a safecracker, not a writer.
After a dozen years behind bars, Dom (played against type by Jude Law) is released, or maybe the term should be unleashed. Having stuck to the criminal code of keeping his mouth shut, he’s now ready collect for his silence from a mob boss known as Mr. Fontaine (Demián Bichir).
Dom’s assisted in this fool’s quest by his pal Dickie (Richard E. Grant). But he and Dickie are hapless screwups, so don’t expect them to come out on top.
“Dom Hemingway” is actually intended to be a black comedy. And despite Dom having no socially redeeming qualities, Shepard’s deft direction makes us wind up caring about what happens to him.
No, it doesn’t bother us so much when he beats his ex-wife’s husband to a bloody pulp. Or when Dom takes his own lumps. But we do care whether he can reestablish himself with his estranged daughter.
As the director describes it, “I was interested in how do you define a character and make him so interesting, weirdly both repellant and also charming, that you don’t know where this movie is going to go. And instead of one last heist, it’s more like please survive, please do the right thing. Please don’t shoot yourself in the foot.”
Shepard is known for this reverse casting ploy. He took Pierce Brosnan out of his usual comfort zone in “The Matador.” And he gives us a very different Jude Law. Here he’s crass, profane, an in-your-face loose cannon.
“I like taking people’s expectations and turning them around,” says Shepard. Why Jude Law? “He’s no longer the young, beautiful leading man. He’s been playing Dr. Watson instead of Sherlock Holmes. It made some sense that he would be up for a challenge.”
That’s why, more than a crime drama or black comedy, “Dom Hemingway” is a character study. But Dom could have stolen a better title from that other Hemingway: Winner Take Nothing.
Shirrel Rhoades is a film writer for Cooke Communications.