DOM HEMINGWAY Review: Sometimes Bad Is Bad
– 1930s horror: Bela Lugosi as 1931’s titular Dracula
– 1940s noir: Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson in 1944’s Double Indemnity
– 1950s drama: Burt Lancaster as J.J. Hunsacker in 1957’s Sweet Smell of Success
– 1960s horror: Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in 1960’s Psycho
– 1970s sci-fi: David Prowse as Darth Vader in 1977’s Star Wars
– 1980s action: Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber in 1988’s Die Hard (my personal favorite)
– 1990s horror: Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs
– 2000s superhero: Heath Ledger as The Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight
What makes these and other villains so great is that they are compelling, often layered characters that are sometimes charming and always evil, and we either love them or love to hate them. In either case, love is involved, and while we might want the good guys to win at the end of the film, if something should happen so that the bad guys win, well, that wouldn’t be so bad after all.
I tend to think the leading bad guy of the 2010s is Tom Hiddleston‘s Loki from 2012’s superhero blockbuster, The Avengers (as well as from other MCU titles), but there is a lot of decade left. The latest entrant in the “Am I A Charming Bad Guy?” contest is the title character of director Richard Shepard‘s latest film, Dom Hemingway.
As the film opens, Dom Hemingway (Jude Law) is released from jail after serving 12 years for an undisclosed crime. His first major course of action is to reunite with his criminal partner, Dickie Black (Richard E. Grant). The two men travel to France so that their Russian boss, Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir), can financially compensate Hemingway for being a stand-up guy; Hemingway did his time and didn’t drop dime on anyone.
But at the villa, things don’t go quite as Hemingway had planned, and the baddie finds himself looking for new work with a new boss. Meanwhile, Hemingway also has some unfinished business with a daughter whom he hasn’t seen in over a decade.
I was a little misleading in my summary of the Dom Hemingway. It actually opens shortly before Hemingway is released from jail. He is receiving oral sex from a fellow inmate and throughout the entire encounter, he rambles incessantly about the glory that is his erect penis. Is it funny at first? A little. But he prattles on and on and on about it, and it’s in this scene that you learn almost everything you need to know about the character: he maintains an off-the-charts level of self-absorption and he never shuts up about it.
Oh, while I’m being honest here, his first MAJOR course of action when he is released from jail is reuniting with Dickie and getting his money, but his true first course of action is to go to the workplace of the man who eventually married Hemingway’s ex-wife (and helped raise his daughter) and beat the living hell out of the guy who got with his wife, even though he was in jail and he and his wife were in the middle of a divorce. NOW you know everything you need to know: Hemingway is a narcissistic gasbag with a violent streak (oh, who can’t hold his liquor despite his extolling the virtues of his own liver, clearly his second favorite organ).
The filmmakers cast their lot with a screenplay that thinks violent + egotistical + bombastic = charming. It’s bad math. It’s like they’re trying to make Dom both the setup: the erudite hothead bad guy … and the punch line: one with no sense of when to adjust his own volume and/or when to simply shut up. What they fail to realize is that just as speaking louder to a foreigner won’t make them understand your language more, speaking louder (and more verbosely) to your audience won’t make you more funny.
Making matters worse is that the film has no narrative whatsoever, and with 93 minutes to fill, it becomes a series of sketches that asks, “What kind of trouble can Dom Hemingway get himself into and out of next?” And into and out of trouble is what Dom gets best, and he has no one to blame but himself, because Dom Hemingway is the only person Dom Hemingway cares about (yes, he often refers to himself – sigh – in the third person). So, when the time comes for him to attempt to make something of his failed relationship with his daughter (way too late in the film), it rings entirely untrue because his character is completely self-absorbed with exactly zero redeeming qualities.
The film is not without some small merit. Grant is quite good as Dickie, really the only friend that Dom has. He plays the role with great subtlety and gives Law all the room he needs to make Hemingway the center of attention. As for Law, there isn’t a piece of scenery he doesn’t gnaw on, and he does the best with what he has to work with, but when the character is deplorable and the comedic material is unfunny and the dramatic material is disingenuous, an actor can only do so much. There is a very entertaining scene late in the film where Hemingway must crack a high-tech safe in ten minutes (or else suffer the loss of his favorite organ), but that’s like saying the dessert was good on a sinking ship.
Dom Hemingway is made like its being targeted for teenage boys in the 1980s: it has lots of foul language, plenty of violence and substance abuse, and a few topless hookers. It substitutes humor with shock and plot with situations, with the pre-requisite, late-film attempt at conscience and morality.
Unlike those ’80s types of films, the cast (at least at the head of the list) is top-notch. But like those ’80s types of films, this one is destined to wind up at the bottom of a bargain bin.