Dom HemingwayReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 04/23/14 11:31:08
Dom Hemingway feels like he's the sort of character Jude Law could settle into and play for a while, so perhaps it's only fitting that the movie itself plays like a couple episodes of a TV show that have been edited together and released as a feature. That's not a bad thing in and of itself, but it also feels like the producers were given notes between the first and second episodes of this hypothetical program to tone things down and make it more grounded and relatable, even though the madness was what made it fun.It starts out plenty larger-than-life, with safecracker Dom the cock of the walk in prison before getting the call that he is being released after twelve years. After a quick detour to deliver a beating to the man who took up with his late wife while he was inside, he heads to the pub with another old mate, Dickie Black (Richard E. Grant), who delivers him to the south of France so that Dom can get what he's owed for not ratting. After that adventure, it's back to London to look for more work and hopefully reconnect with his daughter Evelyn (Emilia Clarke).
If Dom Hemingway is an actively good person in any way, it's buried rather deeply; in fact, he's actively malicious at times. The audience is going to want to spend time with him anyway, though, because he's one of those characters who is made almost entirely out of self-confidence, from his sartorial choices to the way he bellows. While a good portion of the movie's humor comes from how he smashes his way into trouble like with his dumb thick skull, he's never so stupid that any good fortune that comes his way seems like pure luck, and there is some small but of humanity under the ego. But most importantly, he's played by Jude Law, who seems to be having a grand time playing to the rafters even while making sure that he's actually only being as grandiose as Dom would be to that character at that time. Sure, we know that eventually he's going to show some sign off not being a complete jackass where Evelyn is concerned, but in the meantime, Law is going to hit every joke he's given, injecting a surprising amount of average-Joe disbelief at the world around Dom into the character's own peculiarity to make him a surprisingly enjoyable presence in just about every scene.
That combination of straight-man double takes and broad silliness is deployed with great comic timing, which he needs because writer/director Richard Shepard is giving Law and the rest of the cast, particularly Grant and Demian Bichir (as the crime boss Dom did not rat out), a lot of fun material, especially in the first half of the movie. There's a ton of nutty back-and-forth banter, straight-faced and knowing absurdity, and over-the-top bits of preening masculinity that are both good for a laugh and possessed of a little bit of danger. They are not necessarily big jokes, or to everyone's taste, but there's a lot of them hitting at an impressive enough rate to keep this viewer laughing quite steadily.
Then the movie hits the halfway mark, and it doesn't so much become a bad movie as a different one, nowhere near as boisterous or colorful, with the focus far more of Dom building himself up than living it up. And it's okay; Jude Law doesn't suddenly start playing Dom as humble or make his petulance more annoying than funny. It's just that a lot of this material could come out of any movie about a career crook getting out of jail after a lengthy sentence rather than specifically applying to the outrageous Dom, and while having him adjust his priorities is a potentially decent story, this part of the movie only really comes to life when the Dom from the first half shows up. It doesn't particularly help that Emilia Clarke and Jumayn Hunter just aren't given the same sort of fun material that Grant and Bichir had before.
It still looks nice, though; Shepard and his team fill the movie with bold colors and slick designs that feel organic, as opposed to a for-show attempt to subvert the expectations of the genre. He keeps the movie fast-paced but does so without whipping the camera around our doing anything much more fancy than inserting a pause for a chapter title every now and again. Even though there are several scenes that have music injected fairly directly, he doesn't cram a new song onto the soundtrack every five minutes, as some folks making "cool crime" movies are wont to do.At first glance, the ending seems a bit weak, with another tone shift but no "third episode" in which it can play out. Upon reflection, it works a little better and does tie the whole story together a bit, but even taking that into account, it still leaves the audience wishing that the whole movie could have been as much fun as the first half.
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