‘Dom Hemingway’ (2013) Movie Review – Toronto Film Festival

Dom Hemingway movie review
Jude Law and Richard E. Grant in Dom Hemingway
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Dom Hemingway feels like a second cousin to Nicolas Winding-Refn‘s Bronson. Albeit it’s not as good (how could it be?), but Jude Law‘s title character carries the same gruff, deep British accent Tom Hardy adopted for Bronson and the batshit nature of the two characters is damn near exactly the same. Suffice to say, I quite enjoyed it.

The film opens as Law stands shirtless in front of the camera. We can see him from the waist up, his arms out-stretched to either side as he screams at the audience about the glorious nature of his “cheetah cock”, comparing it to the work of Renoir and Picasso and suggesting it should be on display in museums. This goes on for what seems like five minutes or so, one punchline after the next, establishing exactly what kind of film we’re in for as the word “fuck” must have been said no fewer than 25 times. As the scene comes to a close, Hemingway spasms a few times, his hands settling to his side, an alarm buzzes and the fellow prisoner that was giving him a blowjob stands and walks away. The next screen reads, “12 years is a long time,” but Dom’s days in jail are about to come to a close.

This is only the start of the madness of Dom Hemingway and I could go on and on about the plot, but it really would only serve to spoil the film. Writer/director Richard Shepard (The Matador) has done a wonderful job creating a character and telling a story that doesn’t fall into any one category as much as it occupies a space in time in which we see Dom do what Dom does because Dom Hemingway is Dom Hemingway. This is a guy that could walk to the grocery store for a pack of gum, bloody a guy’s nose, have sex with the cashier and drink a pint at the local pub in a span of 30 minutes and I wouldn’t be surprised.

Adding to the lunacy are a few details such as he was only in prison for 12 years because he refused to rat out the big boss man; while inside his wife passed away due to cancer; his daughter (“Game of Thrones” star Emilia Clarke) hates him; the man he protected (Demian Bichir) owes him; and his only friend in the world, Dickie (Richard E. Grant) is by his side in an instant.

Dom Hemingway, like the character, doesn’t rest for a moment, that is unless he’s drunk and passed out, which is only a minor bump in the road leading to the next stop on this whirlwind tour.

Law is outstanding in the title role, to no surprise. He is a much better actor when he’s uninhibited and given as much to do as possible and he does not disappoint, going absolutely all out in a role that must have come with a little reluctance at first, but once he was in character I can only imagine it became increasingly freeing to be able to do, say and act however he wanted.

At his side nearly every step of the way, Grant is the perfect companion, instigating, smiling and sometimes frightened by Hemingway’s behavior but no matter what happens he remains loyal. It was also fun to see Jumayn Hunter, whom some of you will recognize as the rapper Hi-Hatz from Attack the Block, get a little screen time here as a low rent gangster.

Violent, vulgar and coked out of his mind, Shephard and Law have conspired to create the kind of character I love to see on screen. But his rage-filled antics, and pent up aggression after 12 years behind bars aren’t all that define Hemingway, which is why the film ultimately works. Shephard understands you can’t simply rely on a character running around beating the shit out of everyone for no reason, there must be an arc and we’re talking about a character arc that serves as a story rather than vice versa and it proves truly satisfying.

As I said, Dom Hemingway feels like a second cousin to Bronson, but the one big difference is this feels like a cinematic episode in what could easily be a continuing pulp series of films. Imagine the characters in Guy Ritchie‘s Snatch each getting their own “day in the life” movie. It feels a lot like that, leaving the audience with plenty more to want with an ending that’s just as abrupt as it is appropriate given Hemingway’s story is one that seems as if it could go on forever. And that certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing.

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