To be fair, Dom Hemingway, as played energetically by Jude Law, is a fun character. Or at least, a fun idea for a character. But it feels like writer/director Richard Shepard created a look (Mod London Pimp!) and an attitude (a crim with a code, who don’t take no shit from no one!) and got so infatuated with it that he sort of just “yadda yadda’d” everything else. If you want a drinking game to play during Dom Hemingway, drink every time someone says “Dom Hemingway.” And drink double every time Dom Hemingway says “Oy’m Dom ’emingwaiy!”
In a better film, characterization happens gradually, through actions. You get a feel for who a character is based on the things he does. Conversely, it tends to feel desperate when your titular main character has to keep explaining his actions by shouting his own name (“Because Oy’m Dom ’emingway, dammit!” which is an actual line from the movie Dom Hemingway). Yeah, dude, we get it. Also, TIMMAY!
Dom Hemingway is a bit like the movie equivalent of Lenny Kravitz’s album, “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” where you knew the other songs were all going to suck because “Are You Gonna Go My Way” was the title of the album, the only single, and the single was the first song on the album of the same name.
Without the connective tissue that makes a story, it’s just a lot of yelling and flailing and some admittedly very cool monkey posters. Jude’s Dom is a Cockney safecracker recently released after 12 stint in British prison (a brutal place where you can’t have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat). Now he’s out, settling scores, collecting debts, and trying reconcile with his daughter, played by Emilia Clark (Daenerys Targarian), who looks even better with her natural hair color. It’s an okay premise, but in practice, Dom’s either a bile-spewing superhero who beats people up and shits cocaine, or a down-and-out loser smoking a broken cigarette on the toilet, depending on the scene. Everything is either a wild coke montage or a sad cigarette montage, with a hokey reconciling-with-his-daughter angle tacked on at the end in a desperate attempt to give the story some kind of arc.
Additionally, inspired by Dom Hemingway, here is an abbreviated list of things I never want to see in another movie:
- A father silently crying as his child sings an emotional song.
- A guy talking to his dead wife’s gravestone (pretty much anyone talking to tombstones, really).
- A child getting back at his or her absentee father by calling him by his first name instead of “dad.”
I could forgive a movie that does them differently, or knowingly, or well, but Dom Hemingway is not that movie.
For instance, in the scene that inspired bullet point one, Dom goes to a pub that looks like it was styled based on a New York Times trend piece about hipsters, where he sees his daughter, tunelessly singing the World’s Worst Indie Song with a backing band of gold rush revivalists and Levi’s commercial extras, one of whom is doing a less convincing job pretending to play the mandolin than Danny Bonaduce strumming his walking bass lines on The Partridge Family. Not only do we get a bad melodramatic cliché (you can see essentially the same crying dad scene in both Shame and Moneyball), we get a bad cliché, poorly realized. I think the scene was supposed to communicate Jude’s love for his daughter, but part of you wonders if he’s just crying because the pub where he used to see The Clash is now being headlined by the Royalty-Free Mandolin Explosion here.
Also, why do movie kids always have to sing a song to get their parents to love them? Who came up with this cliché, Stephen Sondheim?
I wanted to like Dom Hemingway, I really did. The styling is great, and I enjoy watching Cockney Jude Law swear like a Guy Ritchie extra as much as the next guy. But this movie is trying so, so hard. Like it’s so desperate to be loved it forgot to tell a story. It opens with a five-minute monolog in which Dom (framed in close-up) goes on and on about how his cock belongs in a museum, his magnificent cock, with the world’s greatest masters tasked with detailing all of his cock’s exquisite folds on the ceilings of chapels, and blah blah blah. It’s mildly funny. I mean, it’s not UN-funny. But if brevity is the soul of wit, extended shouty monologs are catnip for theater kids. Where actresses love playing an imperious queen (Daenerys Targarian, for instance), actors drop everything to play a bile-spewing underworld figure like Dom Hemingway (the world’s best safe cracker, innit). Jude is so excited to shout and the director so excited to shoot him shouting that it can’t help but feel like a game of dress up. If we’re playing improv games, at least have him take suggestions from the audience.
Writer/director Richard Shepard previously did The Matador, an underseen Pierce Brosnan vehicle that felt like it had potential. But Dom feels like he just doubled down on the style without adding any substance and ended up with a movie that’s almost the same, but worse.
If only they’d given away those monkey posters with the price of admission, I would’ve seen it twice.
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. You can find more of his work on FilmDrunk, the Uproxx network, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.