Jude Law Tolls the Bell for ‘Dom Hemingway’

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CHICAGO – “Dom Hemingway” begins with a tight close-up on a barely recognizable Jude Law, portraying the title character. He’s giving a monologue, literally spraying the words. When the circumstance is revealed as to what is happening to him, there is an awareness that this is not going to be your Daddy’s petty safecracker ex-con film.

With a style and depth that creates its own distinct energy, “Dom Hemingway” is a party wrapped with a cinematic bow, along with Jude Law providing the performance of his career, considering how different it is from his usual characters. Dom Hemingway the man invents his own moral code, and the way the rest of the world reacts to that code is the basis for the barely put together “plot.” The overall effect feels like a groovy film from the 1960s, except with much more violence, swearing and carnal knowledge. The Dom is a trip.

Petty safecracker Hemingway (Law) has been locked away for 12 years. He has taken the long term rap because he wouldn’t rat out a crime lord named Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir). When he gets out of the slammer, he begins his retribution by beating his ex-wife’s husband, finding his partner in crime, Dickie Black (Richard E. Grant) and collecting from Mr. Fontaine his hush money, presumably from the job they did together.

Jude Law, Richard E. Grant
Quixotic Quest: Dom Hemingway (Jude Law) and Dickie Black (Richard E. Grant) in ‘Dom Hemingway’
Photo credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Dom and Dickie travel to Fontaine’s lair, a lavish estate. Dom has eyes for Fontaine’s lady Paolina (Madalina Diana Ghenea in her first English language film), and the party starts from there. After a series of unfortunate events, Dom ends up back in London, penniless and angry. He seeks vengeance by seeking another safe to crack, a reconciliation with his estranged daughter (Emilia Clark) and a reunion with Paolina.

Law owns this role like no other, he has Dom in every cell of the performance. He travels through the story episodically, with Dom in various states of redress, but the attitude of the character never gets old. He is especially funny in a safecracking demonstration, which encapsulates the film in one incredible scene. His achilles heel is his daughter – and the need for her forgiveness – and while that might be weakest element of the film, it still comes with a nice twist.

The supporting cast facilitates the insanity of Dom quite intuitively. Richard E. Grant, as the loyal Dickie, is an essential sidekick – a Sancho to Dom’s flipped-out Don Quixote – and their shared screen time is nearly perfect. The English language debut of Madalina Diana Ghenea is stunning, both her form and eventual function. Demian Birchir adds a bit of mystery as Mr. Fontaine, and gets one of the freakiest “just desserts” in recent movie memory.

The style of the film feels Peter-Sellers-late-1960s but more high octane. Great care is taken in the art design, as in that poster image of Law underneath a large image of a simian creature. Mr. Fontaine’s home is filled with those images. The colors in the film are eye-popping, even in his daughter’s modest apartment. Even the safe he cracks has a production design. “Dom Hemingway” is old fashioned designed-for-the-big-screen eye candy.

Madalina Diana Ghenea
Emerging Star: Paolina (Madalina Diana Ghenea) in ‘Dom Hemingway’
Photo credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Because the film is episodic rather than a straight narrative there are few dead zones, but a few scenes later everything picks up again. Writer/director Richard Shepard (“The Matador”) had an overall plan for his gem and kept it consistent throughout the movie. The same could be said about the film as was said about Sinatra, “it’s Dom Hemingway’s world, we just live in it.” If the character existed in reality, he most likely would be dead, but that’s the fun of it all.

With so many people having access to making movies, it’s a wild trip to experience what comes out of this mass experimentation. It is only in the movies where we meet the eccentric wildness of Dom, and he beats the folks encountered at most cocktail parties. Really, he would physically beat them.

“Dom Hemingway” continues its limited release in Chicago on April 11th. See local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring Jude Law, Demian Birchir, Richard E. Grant, Madalina Diana Ghenea and Emilia Clark. Written and Directed by Richard Shepard. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2014 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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