Dom Hemingway is a larger-than-life safecracker with a loose fuse. He is funny, profane, and dangerous. Back on the streets of London after twelve years in prison, it’s time to collect what he’s owed for keeping his mouth shut.
Jude Law’s vicious, eloquent, explicit, uninhibited and revoltingly arrogant rant at the opening of Dom Hemingway encapsulates much of what is enacted over the subsequent 100 minutes. While Law’s sophisticated foppishness re-fashioned into the dated three-piece suit of a loud-mouthed potbellied cockney hardman is almost hypnotically captivating for the first 15 minutes, these incongruities with the normally suave actor cannot carry attention alone.
Having served 12 years in prison, Dom Hemingway is released to collect his reward for the crime that landed him there, from a Russian gangster. Wonderfully stripped back and energetic depictions of London streets accompanied by a thumping soundtrack set up a strong characterisation that throttles attention from the viewer, and his brutally entertaining behaviour is as watchable as it is deplorable. Anticipation of the wondrously talented Richard E Grant is almost uncontainable by this point, and his appearance in a garish 70s suit and oversized glasses would ordinarily herald the perfect embellishment to any film. Unfortunately, in cinema there is always an exception to every rule.
The adventure to claim Dom’s loot with Dickie (Grant) in tow painfully re-enacts scenarios that have populated gangster films from the silent era forward, with maybe a little more skin. But no amount of Law in the buff striding through an olive grove muttering expletives in a cockney accent will inject originality if the story has none. Richard E Grant is woefully under-used as a character who is as entirely unconvincing a gangster, as he is the best friend of the eponymous Dom. And while impressive at first, once the initial shock of seeing Jude Law’s impersonation of Ray Winstone has worn off, he is given little more to do than extol excessively worded tirades. In isolation these exultations showcase Law to be more capable than smiling smugly with sunshine bouncing of his blonde locks, but they feel increasingly hollow over the duration of the film. Without caring for Dom, his plight or his future, his rants begin to lack any emotional resonance, menace or humour: and worst of all, they become boring.
Elements of interest pepper the film with brief moments of potential where things might suddenly get as interesting as the opening minutes promised, but dated stereotypes are thickly painted throughout (don’t even get me started on the female characters!). For every glimmer of genre-rejuvenating inventiveness, is a floodlight of cliché washing it out. This is the kind of movie that my dad would have thought was brilliant, though it is hard to see where its relevance is with an audience today.
Everything you need to know about Dom Hemingway is expressed in the first five minutes. It’s loud, it’s shouty, it’s offensive, and uses ten words where two will do. It makes you feel sick, depressed, vaguely amused, and for a second even a little bit horny, but ultimately deflated.