Starring: Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Birchir, Emilia Clarke
Directed by Richard Shepard
Dom Hemingway is an amplified speaker. A firing machine gun. A cannonball pounding through a reinforced wall. A rocket launch. A sonic boom that shatters windows. It’s a motorcycle gang screaming down a highway. A jet engine. An erupting volcano. A pyrotechnic explosion. Dom Hemingway is whatever shakes your bones and makes your ears pop.
And it is stupendous and mesmerizing, every vile and irreverent second of it.
The movie opens on the most talked-about scene: Jude Law’s Dom Hemingway, with his porkchop sideburns and gold teeth, getting “serviced” in his jail cell. Never one to just stand there and simply take pleasure in the little things of life — like, for him anyways, prison blowjobs — he addresses the camera about his most favorite body part, his penis. He doesn’t say penis, though. “They’ll write sonnets about it,” he says in way that can only be called verbal swagger. “They’ll study it in schools.” As crudely as its presented, the scene is a deviant work of art.
Dom Hemingway, we learn, is about to get out of prison. He was sent there for a robbery he most definitely did commit. But he never welched on his bandit buddies because Dom is bound to a code of honor so screwy that the first thing he does after getting out of prison is put the guy that married his ex-wife into intensive care. Only then can he celebrate with three days of hookers, cocaine and some sort of naked Olympics in one of those hotels where you wrap items in plastic before touching them with your bare hands.
As Dom jumps on a train to go meet his kingpin boss, the movie starts poking at your crime-movie expectations. It does this so repeatedly, and sometimes with pressing urgency, that the ultimate payoff — Dom pulling an epic heist — seems to be around almost every corner. But the movie, and director Richard Shepard, know they have something better than a heist movie on their hands. They have a character study that is so wickedly rewarding that a heist would only muddle the brilliance of Law’s career-jumpstarting performance.
Demian Bichir plays the kingpin, Mr. Fontaine, who is the most dangerous guy in all of Europe as long as he’s not sharing a room with Dom Hemingway, who’s so confrontational that murder seems to drip from the screen. Dom and a buddy (the sad-looking court jester Richard E. Grant) meet Fontaine at his hunting estate, in a room decorated with post-modern furniture and floor-to-ceiling pictures of monkeys. Dom wants money for the prison sentence he served without naming names. Fontaine gives him money. Unsatisfied, Dom asks for more: “I want a present. I want your girlfriend.” The tension ratchets so tight it becomes almost unbearable.
The movie’s plot also involves another criminal underboss, a timed safe-cracking challenge, a rowdy pool party, a fortune-altering car crash, and a nude stroll through a French vineyard, but Shepard, who also wrote the screenplay, keeps a laser-focus on Dom and his eventual redemption. The film goes out of its way to shock you with its uniquely offensive dialogue and to prove how awful a human being Dom is, but it has a gooey center involving Dom and his adult daughter, who is resentful of his imprisonment. At the end, we realize this isn’t a crime drama — though it certainly resembles a Snatch or a Sexy Beast — or a even a heist thriller.
It’s about a man, and his sonnet-inspired penis, breaking a chain of very bad decisions. It’s the best movie I’ve seen so far this year, and one that will likely go down in history as the turning point — hopefully for the better — for Jude Law, who is unnervingly brilliant as he portrays his lovable meatheaded thug. The film has opened in other markets already, and reviews have been mixed. People either love it or hate it. I’ve yet to read anyone who said it was boring, though.