Meet Dom Hemingway – an abrasive, filthy and selfish man with delusions of grandeur and a silver tongue to back it up. After 12 years in the slammer, Hemingway (Jude Law) is free and looking to be rewarded for his silence. Out of touch with his friends, his family and possibly reality, Hemingway wanders the British underground – populated with the now-expected petty but eloquent small-time gangsters – with his only remaining friend, Dickie (Richard E. Grant), and tries to reclaim a life put on hold too long.
It’s clear from the titular character’s opening monologue, a lengthy ode to his own phallic instrument, what kind of film Dom Hemingway wants to be. It’s abrasive, in-your-face, honest and unafraid, but it’s unclear as to what end. Equal parts violent, introspective and whimsical, Dom Hemingway is, by no means, a bad film, but it never quite lives up to it’s own earnest sense of meaning.
If this message was lost in the editing room, it was never lost on the film’s star, Jude Law, who delivers his most dedicated and full-bore performance to date. As Hemingway, Law is a madman – mutton-chopped and wild-eyed. Inhabiting the character completely, gone is the slick and suave Jude Law we’ve come to expect. In its place is a pudgy vulgar man whose bravado barely masks an animal on the edge of despair. It’s a complex, explosive performance and that thing from which the film draws the majority of its strength.
Inventive and comical, Richard Shepard’s directing is that of an oddball observer, both capable and arresting, with framing that draws the eye and a vibrant and pastel color palette reminiscent of Wes Anderson minus the warmth. Grant’s turn as Hemingway’s stoic and steadfast partner injects much-needed whimsy and the film stands strongest when he and Law engage, but his skills are ultimately underutilized.
Dom Hemingway is an enjoyable film, full of noteworthy performances and creative composition, but it’s weakness lies in its inability to embrace the absurdism it hints at and instead falling back on cliché. It’s a visually intriguing film and definitely worth a watch, but doubtful a seminal addition to the London Underground collection.