If you seek out Dom Hemingway (as you should) for a chance to see Jude Law as never before, you’ll likely come away thrilled with what writer-director Richard Shepard has unleashed within the actor. He’s on fire. Physically, Law’s almost unrecognizable, complete with greased-back hair, a protruding belly and a feral glint of sexual hunger in his eyes. And as an actor, he’s louder, bolder, nuttier and more rakishly appealing than ever before. It’s quite a transformation, coming on the heels of many almost clinically detached performances over the past few years – and Dom Hemingway should mark the beginning of a new era for the star, as Mud did for McConaughey. He’s so stunningly good, so fiercely alive, in this role that one can almost feel the heat from his fire coming off every frame.
Thanks to Law and to Shepard, who proves himself a canny and extremely vibrant storyteller, Dom Hemingway succeeds both as a character study and a brash, balls-out British crime comedy, the likes of which haven’t been seen since Snatch (2004’s excellent Layer Cake will be the exception that proves the rule). Like that crime classic, Dom Hemingway crackles with energy, never more than when Dom is front-and-center, delivering one of many hilarious monologues that prove him to be one of the most strangely articulate big screen criminals in cinematic history. To wit: the movie’s first line, “Is my cock exquisite?,” is followed by a lengthy, grandiose and brusquely poetic ode to what can be referred to as “Little Dom.”
Dom Hemingway is stuffed with other such tirades, all as clever as they are crude. And watching Law deliver them, foaming at the mouth like a mad dog, is one of the film’s most distinct pleasures. But what Shepard has accomplished goes beyond the wordplay. His movie is at its very best when it dwells in Dom’s hedonistic world view – one immediately gets the sense that this guy has spent the majority of his life clutching a bottle of whisky in one hand and a cigarette in the other, with a mountain of cocaine and a comely vixen both waiting on the table in front of him – but Shepard aspires to something more.
You see, it’s not all fun and games for this over-the-top antihero. That cock monologue that kick-starts Dom Hemingway like a shot of adrenaline to the heart is delivered inside a dingy prison, where Dom, a criminal safecracker, has spent 12 years holed up after refusing to rat out an associate. Thankfully, “the call” has finally come through, and he’s quickly out on the street again within the opening minutes. But though Dom’s gut reaction is to try to make up for lost time by drinking, snorting and screwing anything and everything he can within a five-mile radius, the cold reality is that his willingness to observe the criminal code of conduct has resulted in him giving up the best years of his life. The beauty of Law’s performance is that, even with all the posturing and bravado, you can see his sadness, fury, even disbelief at that clear as day on Dom’s scruffy mug.
There are also more than just passing pleasures that Dom has missed out on. His wife has died from cancer, and his now-grown daughter (Emilia Clarke) wants nothing to do with him. Only Dom’s wallflower friend Dickie (Richard E. Grant, in a simply terrific performance) hasn’t moved on without him – the two of them, belonging to a different age, are painfully out of place in modern-day London. So, eventually, even all the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll can’t tide Dom over anymore – he wants to go back, do it over, win his daughter’s heart and be the man he never got to be. The character’s agonizing realization on that front, and his subsequent attempts to build a new bridge out of the ruins of an older ones, make for almost as compelling cinema as Dom’s moments of hard partying in the French countryside. It’s necessary to say ‘almost,’ because Shepard’s script isn’t without its weaknesses. In particular, some of the main points of Dom’s emotional journey feel strangely canned – a stark contrast to the crazy gusto of the rest of the film, in which Dom beats the snot out of would-be enemies, insults a kingpin (Demian Bichir, underutilized but having fun) and attempts to bring his old-school style to cracking a digital safe for the hateful Lestor (Jumayn Hunter).
Don’t expect Dom Hemingway to feel perfectly formed in terms of its story. It’s not. Like its protagonist, the movie is rough around the edges, and it runs the gamut from verbal elegance down to slight clumsiness. But look past its flaws, including some false notes in Dom’s relationship with his daughters, and you’ll be rewarded with what may be Law’s most incredibly transformative performance to date, along with some truly killer dialogue and a visual style that sometimes crosses the line from enjoyable to jaw-dropping. Dom is hilarious, profane and wild – and because Dom Hemingway is the same way, its shortcomings can (and should) be easily overlooked.
In terms of visuals, the 1080p Blu-Ray transfer for Dom Hemingway pops in all the right places, delivering a perfectly enjoyable visual package. Shepard’s bold direction, with lots of splashes of color and some nutty settings, benefits from the transfer, which preserves small details while also ensuring that the vivacious tone of the film is kept intact. Skin tones are accurate and natural, black levels are appropriately strong and there’s little, if anything, to take issue with.
The same goes for the DTS-HD 5.1 DTS-HD Audio Track, which prioritizes crisp dialogue (particularly noticeable during Dom’s rants, some of which you might recoil from in fear of spittle landing on you – that’s how present he feels thanks to this track). The rocking soundtrack is also implemented to great effect without detracting from other sounds of Dom Hemingway, and the background sound effects (tires screeching, walls crunching under a sledgehammer) all sound terrific.
In terms of special features, the Dom Hemingway Blu-Ray is a little less praiseworthy. We’ve got:
- Promotional Featurettes
- Who is Dom Hemingway? (2:46)
- The Story (2:39)
- The Look of Dom Hemingway (3:26)
- A Conversation with the Cast and Director (4:44)
- Ping Pong Loop (30:30)
- Audio Commentary with Richard Shepard
- Gallery (5:30)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:17)
The promotional featurettes are all very short, almost to the point where it’s hard to recommend them, but each serves a small purpose. The first looks at Dom as a character (briefly), while the second examines broad plot concepts. The third, as its title would suggest, is all about the film’s visual stylings, and while it is more interesting than the first two, the best of the bunch is the fourth, which includes interviews with Law, Shepard and Bichir.
“Ping Pong Loop” is actually the video of nude women playing Ping Pong from the movie. No joke. Inspired touch, or overkill? That’s best left up to you.
My favorite extra is the audio commentary, because Shepard is an engaged presence on the track who has plenty to say. His insights into production are very interesting, while some of his anecdotes from the set, working with Law and the other actors, are genuinely as funny as some of the film’s material. Also expect discussion of the more technical aspects of working behind the camera, as Shepard makes sure to address Dom Hemingway‘s visual style at length. The other two extras are really not worth going into.
Dom Hemingway, in conclusion, offers stellar audio and video, along with a few good extras. As for the film itself, it’s like a jagged piece of sea glass – very imperfect but also dazzling. Law’s performance really makes Dom Hemingway a must-see, even if the rest of the movie occasionally suffers from not matching his madcap energy. He’s not the only attraction here – Shepard’s script and direction are both wholly impressive – but there’s no denying that Law is what kicks Dom Hemingway into another gear, up from a simple crime comedy into something brasher, bolder, cooler, funnier and definitely filthier – all for the best. “I am Dom Hemingway,” Law screams to the night in one scene. And we’re so very lucky the actor decided that he was – in one fell swoop, we’ve gotten a truly brilliant cinematic creation, and a live-wire of a performance from an actor we were starting to forget we had.
Jude Law is so stunningly good, so fiercely alive in Dom Hemingway that one can almost feel the heat from his fire coming off every frame - and that furious energy more than makes up for the film's flaws.