by Philip Price
Sometimes, knowing someone and their aptitude for integrating themselves (no matter with good or bad results, as both can be equally entertaining) into society and the world around them is an exhilarating and interesting enough reason to hang out with them, to spend time with them. Despite the fact these tendencies may or may not become annoying or too much to look past when actually having to deal with the repercussions these actions provide they almost always give way to a few good stories to tell your actual set of friends when you sit down to share a drink and a meal with them where that time spent together is about the conversation and not about the presumed antics you'll encounter because of the domineering traits that make each encounter an adventure with the friend of another set. Some will classify this as simply being two different kinds of people: the thinkers and the doers. The thinkers sitting around watching, speculating while the actions of the doers provide content for those conversations. Much of watching film and critiquing or dissecting it makes the world feel like it squarely fits into these categories, but there are no absolutes and every person, no matter their domineering traits or tendencies will always have experiences in both of these types of situations and yet with “Dom Hemingway” we get as close as we probably ever will to both processing the antics of our titular character as we take them in while also feeling a part of the excursion because of how much was clearly put into the development of Hemingway, not only in the script and the way he was written, but of course and likely more critically in the way he was brought to life by Jude Law. Law, as the boozed out, drug-addled Englishman has seemingly subdued his classic good looks in every possible way to bring as much grit and grime to the presence of Hemingway to the point we don't doubt the man has dirt under his nails that's been there the entire time he kept his mouth shut in prison. It is a shame the actual film can't keep up with the character, because the energy that flows through Law's blood-shot eyes and out of his saliva-slinging mouth is pure electric.
We begin, as is only fitting, with our introduction to Mr. Hemingway in is as strong a statement that can be made about what the character stands for. Not only are we referring to the monologue that he spouts out in the opening scene, but more towards the sole object he is describing and with such eloquence that were you to have to guess at the subject you probably wouldn't guess it at all. That coupled with how director Richard Shepard's camera slowly pans out to reveal the more justified reason for the building tension in Law's voice all combines to paint an immediate picture of the man who we will be getting to know over the next, brisk hour and a half. Shepard, who has had some critical success in this kind of genre before with 2005's “The Matador” (which had some similar attempts at dark humor as well as some of the same problems with pacing it seems, but it has been too long since I've seen the film for me to really make an accurate comparison) is clearly in control of his character and knows who this guy is as he is the sole screenwriter, but he never comes up with as sturdy or compelling a drama to place behind this bullheaded, inappropriate brute who dominates wherever he goes and whoever he comes in contact with. Dom is given a friend, a sidekick in Dickie (Richard E. Grant) as well as an estranged daughter, Evelyn (Emilia Clarke), and a prickly foe in the form of Demian Bichir whose wife, Paolina (Madalina Diana Ghenea), may be even dirtier than he. There are these elements of a story that we see come to light, but are so easily brushed over or whisked off into the next adventure Dom embarks on that we never feel any real presence from a supporting structure that guides this narrative to a point that we feel it resonates with us or was trying to say anything at all. And maybe it wasn't, maybe there is no grander point to Dom Hemingway, but instead Shepard simply wanted to deliver a pure character study and to do that would have been fine but you still need an engaging story that happened in your characters life to peel back the layers that make this character interesting enough to study. Instead of giving us this moment in time, this picture in the week of the life of Dom Hemingway we instead are delivered a scattershot story that matches the way in which Dom leads his life, but leaves the audience yearning for more information, more insight on each little encounter he has with the several different events that come up and are blown past in the film.
I wouldn't like Dom Hemingway, the man, if I were to actually meet him and have to be around him I imagine, but watching his foolish and outrageous behavior from a distance endears him to the audience and due to no lack of charm from Law we stick with the film because we do actually come to love the character and are interested in where he ends up. The set-up is that Dom went to jail and has been there for twelve years. As he is released we even get the on-screen text telling us, "Twelve Years is a Long Time". Indeed it is and it is evident that this time that has passed since he last stepped out into the real world has caused him not only to miss certain things, like his daughter growing up, but to miss the way in which culture has transformed and left him in the dust. He is a man out of time that no doubt wants the early-90's of his prime to stick around forever, but when he learns he can't even smoke in a pub anymore we are treated to what makes Dom and Law's performance as Dom more specifically, all the more special. This is a guy who gave up a shorter jail sentence so that when he finally was set free would be paid off with interest and a cherry on top by the man he was working for. The money, the materialistic paper that will seemingly grant all of our dreams was his main goal in life and when he reaches that and squanders it due to his inability to control himself he is forced to face a life that would have happened whether he had the money or not because it is the same life his attitude would have always determined he receive. Law makes us believe this luck by always playing Hemingway as him truly thinking he is doing the right thing, but continually getting shit on. With the window of his life being so small in which we are allowed to get to know him we wonder about everything that has informed it to this point and to his credit Shepard, as I said earlier, gives Dom all the necessary aspects to make up this broken man we see in front of us, but it is that lacking insight into these factors that never makes the movie feel as full and as complete as the character. The one aspect that breathes the most life into Dom's current circumstances is his estranged relationship with his daughter, but even with someone like Clarke taking the role (looking especially like Helena Bonham Carter here as well) she is hardly given any room to develop and become little more than an archetype of a resentful daughter who is having a hard time giving her biological father a second chance, and rightly so. There are hints of an interesting relationship between them and through to Evelyn's new family, but the movie spends too much time dipping its toes in extraneous activity to let the focus land here.
Beyond these missteps we come to understand the themes the film is trying to tackle within its main character; the foremost being that he is ultimately trying to make up for too much lost time. Whether it is through the weekend in the country that he spends amongst thieves, taking up a former rival on a good opportunity or even relishing in the train of thought that a man with no options suddenly has all the options in the world; he is trying to live up every scenario to its fullest and more times than not they end up being these small moments, these small wins that he gets a kick out of while his overall existence still reeks of idiocy and bad decisions. This idea of trying to make up for lost time then of course feeds into the many layers there are of regret and the title wave of reality that comes crashing down on Dom that force him to put a perspective on things that before were blinded by those tiny wins. With the passage of time and the understanding he is getting older and that his time will indeed eventually run out he sees why being who he thought he was all those years is certainly regrettable. There is an intensely touching scene late in the film where he is speaking with a character we've heard much about, but never met and where he has a single line stating all he feels he has left of the relationship they once had with one another. It is a simple line, but it brings those realizations Dom is making to not only his, but our reality with him. It hits you hard and makes you appreciate the character transformation not for what could have easily been hokey, but as purely genuine because with the very next scene we understand that the film doesn't feel the need to resolve everything. You probably think from everything I've said about the film that I didn't much like it, but that wouldn't really be accurate as I actually had a pretty fun time with it, I just had hopes it would be better as a complete work. It takes some skill to build a tense moment that strictly has to due with whether a penis gets cut off or not and Shepard's script and direction as well as Law's marvelous performance make this and many more crude and vulgar moments work though and to its credit, even with its slight redemption, Dom's life may end up being nothing more than a nasty cycle, we don't really know, but we can at least trust that it will be eventful.