Dom Hemingway is the kind of bloke you don’t want to know. Violent, dangerous and uncompromising in every respect, Hemingway is the sort of shallow, jack-the-lad, criminal who never quits. If you were unlucky enough to get into a fight with him you’re never going to win, even if you sent him to the hospital on the first round. All he’d do is recover, get back on his feet and come after you again. It would never end.
Jude Law plays Hemingway and from the beginning you can see the kind of dedication he’s put into the role. First, his weight: Normally appearing slight of build, the actor has added the pounds and a certain amount of muscle, and even though he remains reasonably svelte when compared to others around him you can see the extra mass, and it’s imposing. Second, the accent: Hemingway is from the East End of London, he’s a cockney, but unlike Bert the Chimney Sweep, Hemingway’s delivery is as vicious as his character. Think Bob Hoskins at his scariest in The Long Good Friday, then turn it up a few notches.
It’s more than likely audiences will know where they stand with the both the character and the film during the first five minutes. Here, in a stationary head and shoulders shot, with Hemingway looking directly into the camera, and seemingly directly at us, the thug spouts an abhorrent ode to the love of his life – his private appendage – and he presents it with all the passion and relish he can muster. It’s a revolting assault on the ears before you even realize what you’re listening to, but it’s intentional. The style of Hemingway’s speech and the pure, unadulterated joy he appears to savor when talking of his private parts sets the tone for both his character and the film itself. At this point you’ll either switch off and walk out or sit back and get ready for what you know is going to be one uncomfortable ride.
Hemingway is a safe-cracker and has served twelve years in a British prison. Upon release, the first thing he does is go after the man who moved in with Hemingway’s now deceased, ex-wife. Even though he was already divorced, that matters little to Hemingway. The gangster proceeds to beat the unfortunate step-father to Hemingway’s daughter to a bloody pulp in full view of the unfortunate man’s co-workers, none of whom would ever report the incident to the police; they know Hemingway would come after them if any of them even dreamed of mentioning it. “I should kill you,” Hemingway snarls into the ear of the practically unconscious man, “But I fancy a pint instead.” And off to the pub for a drink he goes.
Richard E. Grant plays Hemingway’s best friend, Dickie, and together they head over the channel to France in order for Hemingway to collect the money he’s owed for keeping his mouth shut, something that’s actually hard to believe considering that the character can’t seem to quit talking. When it looks as though Hemingway is about to blow another good thing in front of a foreign, criminal boss, Dickie tells him, “I’m not burying your body out here.” He then adds, “I’m too old and I didn’t bring the right shoes.”
As expected, things go wrong. Hemingway’s share of the loot goes missing and a car wreck – effectively filmed as bodies artistically fly through the air with a balletic, slow-motion grace that is both horrifying and funny – changes everything. All Hemingway can now do is return to London and try to reconnect with his daughter.
“I’m a peasant,” Hemmingway describes himself as his downs another pint. “A surf with a strong liver.” But his cocksure opinion of himself will later change when he stands back, takes a breath and sees how his worthless life is spiraling out of control, and the only one he has to blame is himself. Later, when Hemingway watches his now grown daughter sing with a band at a local pub, you can see he’s reflecting on what he has lost. He even sheds a tear. The problem is, by this time you don’t buy it for a second. Long before there’s a hint of him reuniting with what he thought he had lost, you just don’t care.
Dom Hemingway has energy, the kind that ensures that once it has your attention, like an ugly wreck at the side of the road, you can’t turn away, but it’s full of unlikable characters in nasty situations continually spouting an unending array of verbal filth that after awhile makes it hard to care about anything. The film asks a lot when it wants us to feel something for Hemingway’s progression – there’s even an upbeat ending which it doesn’t earn – but the truth is you wouldn’t want to know anything about him in the first place.
Plus, despite Law’s commitment to the role – he really does go full-throttle throughout – the actor is miscast. It’s an admirable performance, but there’s still something missing. Having grown-up in an East of London environment with a continual attempt to steer clear of the Hemingway’s of this world, there’s a certain look in the eyes with which you become all too familiar. It’s the wide-eyed look of rage and madness that will never find peace – it’s ingrained – and Law’s Hemingway doesn’t have it.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 93 Minutes Overall Rating: 5 (out of 10)