Richard Shepard's wildly inappropriate, punkish, Irvine Welsh-influenced comedy Dom Hemingway begins, rather appropriately, with the title character regaling us with the greatness of his own cock. It's an act of pure unfiltered ego, delivered with narcissistic gusto while his knob is getting a good polishing because, as a caption tells us, 12 years is a really long time to be idling in prison. Dom Hemingway, both the man and the movie that bears his name, is in-your-face crude, disgusting, and full of hilarious bluster that's often hard to resist, until that boisterousness wears out its welcome.
It's a totally unchained, spittle-flying performance by Law, and a needed change after a career of refinement and emotional calculation. His Dom Hemingway is an angry hound of vulgarity, an unrelenting Shakespearean dirt bag, and Law chews up the role with gusto. Dom is a safe cracker extraordinaire, recently loosed from prison after 12 years after refusing to rat out his partners. One of those partners was Ivan Fontaine (Demian Bichir), a crime boss living in a palatial French estate with his gorgeous woman in the kind of life Dom could only dream of. Along with his old pal Dickie (Richard E. Grant), he goes to Fontaine to collect the money he's owed for keeping quiet, and true to his unhinged nature, Dom nearly insults his way out of a fat payment. Actually, he goes totally balls out bonkers, unleashing a torrent of withering put-downs on friend and benefactor alike, only to regret it immensely soon after. This is Dom Hemingway; unchecked aggression followed by remorseful self-reflection.
That dichotomy is part of the film's big central problem: it needs a story. Angry and volatile Dom is fun to watch, especially when he embarks on a three-day sex and drug fueled binge upon getting out of the joint...
"I tried to make up for too much lost time. I fucked myself to death.”
Or after he gets his money, only to snort, screw, and drink the night away until an accident and double-cross leave him penniless again. Vengeful Dom, the guy who beats the snot out of a guy who slept with his ex-wife, is a guy worth following into the pits of Hell because the devil may send him back. But the sorrowful, wannabe Dad version of Dom is a real drag, and unfortunately the film gets real sappy for far too long. See, Dom has an estranged daughter (Game of Thrones' Emilia Clarke, hardly the Khaleesi we love) he desperately wants to connect with, and Shepard's script takes the most contrived path towards making sure that happens. The struggle comes in softening Dom in a way that's believable, but he's so far over the edge that it's tough to do without losing what makes him so interesting. Shepard never seems fully invested in Dom's rehabilitation, and the scenes he shares with his daughter, a musical flake with wild hair and glaring lack of personality, never hit on any solid dramatic notes. It's not for lack of Law trying. He gives his all and puts everything he has into a subplot that could have been cut without missing a beat. There was never much of a story to Dom Hemingway to begin with, and that's probably how it should have stayed. There's something you don't hear too often. Can I have less of a plot, please?
These are the sorts of uneven movies about off-the-charts characters Shepard has been making for years. The Matador, featuring Pierce Brosnan as a brash hit man, was one example, and so was The Hunting Party with Richard Gere as a brash journalist. They all have a certain visual flair to them, and Dom Hemingway with its punk rock score and liberal use of slow-motion (a surreal car crash scene being the best) give the film a rampant energy that's easy to get hooked into. Ultimately, it's Law who gives Dom Hemingway its R-rated charm.