Bozer, loser Dom Hemingway may be renown for his safe-cracking fingers, but they don’t get an entire soliloquy dedicated to them like his little Dom does. In riotous, far-out hyperbolization, a madcap Jude Law as Dom describes his lowers bits with the candid immodesty of a Manson Family member. The camera jammed tight in his spittle-frothing face, he professes his undying love for his nethers. His Johnson is his fleshy David, his uncut Mona Lisa, his pube-riddled Sistine Chapel. It’s his masterpiece. You don’t hear of screenwriting lessons that teach starting a movie on a three minute penis-focused speech but after Dom Hemingway, they should. It’s a glorious beginning, a magnificently off-kilter snickerfest and character magnification that showcases Law’s brilliance in the role and the boldly misanthropic directions writer/director Richard Shepard is willing to take us. Oh and it turns out that during this whole sequence, Hemingway is being orally pleasured by a dude with a cheap mexistach. The movie could have ended there and been an A+.
After Hemingway receives prison-grounds fellatio, talking through the whole sexventure, we’re given a rock-hard idea of who he is and the extent of his unscrupulousness. He’s the kind of guy who answers phone calls during sex or cuts you off and then gives you the finger or waxes philosophy on his junk while his prison bitch is forced to satiate him. That meticulously claustrophobic, tantalizingly verbose opening scene is our window into Dom’s mordant soul. In his eccentric vernacular, everything is a delicious metaphor, a roundabout simile caked in cusses and c-words. In another world, he may have been a poet. In this one, he’s getting blowies from dudes in lockup. Such is life.
Outside the prison walls, he dresses like a booze cruise skipper and stomps around town with the purpose of an avenging cuckold. The first thing he does after release is clomp to the auto shop to brutally beat down the man who married his ex-wife. Dom’s actions are that of a world-class megalomaniac with a chip the size of a hatchet on his shoulder. There he stands with bloody hands over the man who raised his bastard daughter and took care of his heart-broken wife. 12 years waiting didn’t work for her so she moved on. Dom, in this and other matters, has not.
He’s a man out of touch with the world. From iPhones to women’s rights, he’s can’t seem to navigate what has become of the world he once was the cream of the crop of. From one scene to the next, it’s Hemingway’s inability to cipher the world of prison rules from outside civilization that gets him so quickly into deep doo-doo. His uncaged loquaciousness is both his charm and his worst enemy, a truth known by colleague and unlikely friend Dickie (Richard E. Grant). While Dom whittled away years in the joint for keeping his uncommonly large trap shut, Dickie whispers assurances of fortune and glory upon his release. Cue a wonderfully tense meeting of the minds as Dom comes face-to-fact with would-be benefactor, Mr. Evan Fontaine, played by the always terrifying Demian Bichir. As Hemingway helplessly unleashes volleys of libelous offense, we see just how much of a big fish in a small pond he is. In everything, the Dom Hemingway model is outdated.
All that transpires up to here makes for a riotous first half but there’s a notable turning point where penance starts to take hold and everything that makes Dom such an parasitically compelling character start to fade to lighter hues and knee-bending. Law never loses hold of his commanding presence but the script steers him in directions that we would have rather it forsaken. We’ve seen the man trying to win back his family back (even if their family doesn’t include a tragically-hip-haircut-sporting Emilia Clarke) and it fits the ravager Dom like a three-dollar suit.
Suffering from my ‘daughter hates me’ woes, Hemingway looks like a Cocker Spaniel with junk clogging its eyes. He’s a pitiable lunk whose legacy will measure up to his effusive tenure in prison and a propensity to crack out-of-date safes. In the age of electronic everything, even his specialization has outdated him.
As Shepard weaves the character of a bygone criminal braggart into a head-hanging old fool “alone and full of regret”, the bittersweet lark loses its bite. But I guess that’s the point. At some junction, we reassess life, and usually only in circumstances forced upon us. We can’t fight battles of the future with the weapons of the past. Regrettably, Dom Hemingway’s life reassessment feels a bit too much like a guy getting a vasectomy but at least it allowed Jude Law the most daffy, bombastic and peculiarly distinguished performance of his career. For a movie that starts about a guy spewing about the glory of his ding-dong, by the end, everyone’s got him by the balls.