Walt Whitman famously began his poem “Song of Myself” with the phrase “I celebrate myself,” then ended with “I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.” He celebrated life, and part of life was sensual pleasures. But sometimes you just have to announce to the world, with a certain primal anger, that you exist.
Safecracker Dom Hemingway does the same—albeit his own ex-con, thuggish way—in this phallocentric 2013 crime comedy-drama from Richard Shepard (“Girls,” “Criminal Minds”). He’s cocky (I told you it was phallocentric), he’s angrier than Whitman, and he’s thinking the world owes him something—or at least that the Russian mobster he protected with his silence, an act that cost him 12 years in prison, ought to reward him handsomely.
Jude Law is absolutely convincing as the volatile low-level criminal, whom we first see from the waist up in all his grand nakedness, celebrating his cock with Whitmanesque verbal panache as one of the inmates goes down on him.
Yes, he’s that kind of guy, and this is that kind of movie: gritty, episodic, and off-the-wall. This uncouth Brit may not have read Whitman, or anything, for that matter, but he shares the American poet’s love of self and sexual sensations, and that apparently extends to bisexuality.
Although “Dom Hemingway” begins with the kind of upbeat flair that drives a Guy Ritchie film, the plot isn’t nearly as complex or convoluted. Dom gets out of prison, he frequents his old London pub and looks up his old partner Dickie (Richard E. Grant), he makes a beeline for someone who wronged him while he was away, and sets out on his main mission: to confront the Russian (Demian Bichir). At some point he learns that life went on without him, and part of that sense of loss involves a daughter who’s now an adult and wanting nothing to do with him.
It’s all pretty straightforward, with none of the usual twists and turns that are typical of the genre. As a result, there’s a bit of a second-act sag, and as crime comedy-dramas go you’d have to say “Dom Hemingway” is second tier, at best.
But there’s nothing second rate about Law’s dynamic performance. As Dom he’s an animal, and an angry yawper of the first order. You find yourself watching him in every scene, partly because the other actors defer to his force-of-nature character and performance.
There are so few surprises in this film that I hesitate to say more, except perhaps to add that Law reportedly drank 10 Cokes per day in order to gain 30 pounds to play Dom. There’s no allusion that I picked up on as to why the safecracker shares a name with another of America’s most famous writers, although there are times when you might think of the Dos Equis beer commercials featuring a Hemingway clone, “The Most Interesting Man in the World.”
With his mutton chops sideburns and cool demeanor (when he isn’t yawping or careening out of control) you can imagine so many of the descriptions of The Most Interesting Man in the World applying to this Mr. Hemingway—like, “He once traveled to and explored the Virgin Islands; when he left they were just The Islands,” or “His beard alone has experienced more than a lesser man’s body.” There’s not much charm to Dom, but there IS interest. Law brings him to life, and as unsavory, unstable, and despicable as he seems, we still find ourselves watching. Then again, if you take Law out of the equation, I’m not sure what else “Dom Hemingway” has to offer.”
“Dom Hemingway” is presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio and transferred to a 50GB Blu-ray disc via a near-flawless AVC/MPEG-4 encode. Other than a single instance of banding the film looks terrific in HD, with plenty of detail and sharp edges even in low-lit or nightime scenes. London shots and shots of St. Tropez add visual interest when the plot starts to sag a little, and that’s another positive.
The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1, with additional options in English Descriptive and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 and French DTS 5.1 and subtitles in English SDH, Spanish, and French. Like the visual presentation, the sound is slick, especially when music provides an energetic backdrop to the action.
Lately studios have been slacking off the extras, so apparently market research has told them that the novelty has worn off and that movie lovers and collectors are primarily interested in the film itself. Included here is a lively commentary by Shepard, who both wrote and directed the film, along with four short features (each under five minutes) on “Who Is Dom Hemingway?,” “The Story,” “The Look of Dom Hemingway,” and “A Conversation with the Cast and Director.” And in keeping with Dom Hemingway’s yawping and sexual obsessions there’s a half-hour “Ping Pong Loop” which keeps showing the same two women playing topless table tennis that Dom kept looking at when he visited The Russian. Also included is a UV Digital Copy of the film.
Jude Law gives a bravura performance as the title character, but you can’t escape the feeling that this 2013 crime comedy-drama could have been either funnier or more dramatic.