The first five minutes of “Dom Hemingway” are a tight shot of Jude Law’s face and naked torso shown in flushing muscular tension while he describes the legendary grandeur and unstoppable power of his own penis while receiving oral sex. The speech is brilliant, evocative, Shakespearean and eminently quotable, and the obliging inmate doing the job doesn’t get the courtesy of a single moment of screen time. If you don’t walk out during this scene, you’re going to love this movie. This speech is the perfect introduction to “Dom Hemingway.”
Jude Law plays the titular drunk, hypermasculine wreck, carrying the name of a great literary, drunk, hypermasculine wreck. Law is a little more grown-up than usual in this role, carrying about 40 pounds of prison muscle, and he’s funnier than he’s ever been. Dom has just been released from prison on a sentence he did to protect a former employer. As a safecracker, he’s entitled to a great deal of money from his former partners in crime, and he seeks out what’s coming to him. Misadventure befalls him, despite his gold-plated bravado and full-frontal on-screen nudity. The film becomes unexpectedly tender when Dom turns his attention toward his estranged daughter, rounding out a dark comedy with a neatly packaged little heartstring tug.
Dom meets up with his best friend, Dickie (Richard E. Grant), and the two of them enjoy a marvelous best-friends chemistry. They trade barbs and profanity with the rapid equanimity that is native to Londoners, and much of the backstory is skillfully revealed in their interactions. Their kingpin, Fontaine, is plated by Demian Bichir, who is subtly terrifying in the part and never reaches for a Godfather vibe. Fontaine’s mistress is portrayed by an underutilized Madalina Diana Ghenea, who was clearly cast for her supermodel looks but reveals herself capable of more in her last big scene. After Dom’s financial ship fails to make it into the harbor, he finds his way back to his daughter, Evelyn. The young woman is played by an unrecognizable Emilia Clarke, Khaleesi Daenerys Targaryen of “Game of Thrones” fame.
This ensemble pulls together a raucously profane and hilariously awful trip through criminal enterprise. This film was clearly made to appeal to mostly young men, many of whom likely saw a less-interesting version of this anti-hero in “The Wolf of Wall Street’s” Jordan Belfort last year. DiCaprio’s script was all self-satisfied exposition and litanies of drug use, whereas Law is gifted with an unprintable series of soliloquies that will surely be stolen, line by line, to be put to use by people making joyously bad decisions for years to come. The script of “Dom Hemingway” is its main strength, but the performances of the cast are universally excellent.
The unexpected bit of pathos between Dom and his daughter, who lost him to 12 years in prison, is especially affecting, as it follows the film’s exuberant first act. Dom lets his heart show in his eyes as the safecracker is broken by the sight of his only child. Clarke lets her own gorgeous fury choke her up as she opens and closes like a bivalve in her father’s face. Even this storyline doesn’t stop the funny lines; they just come largely at Dom’s expense. By the film’s end, we’ve seen every dimension of Dom as a common man. Law puts in a tour de force, showing range and nuance in a single character beyond anything he has ever done.
“Dom Hemingway” succeeds as a black comedy. It succeeds as a tale of a kind of redemption. It succeeds at authentically tender moments, without warping the characters or requiring any suspension of disbelief. It miserably fails the Bechdel test, but in a way that isn’t irritating during the first watch. It succeeds at everything it sets out to become, although that list is ambitious. By the end, every person in the audience will believe everything Dom said in the first five minutes.
Contact Meg Elison at [email protected].