Despite a riveting performance by Jude Law, the film “Don Hemingway” played the typical week-long run at AMC River Park Square before being replaced. Which surprised me. I figured it might last at least two. But then it doesn't feature superheroes or animated anthromorphisms or something by Nicholas Sparks and certainly wasn't rendered in 3-D, so …
Anyway, as my “Movies 101” partner Nathan Weinbender keeps pointing out to me, seeing a movie in a theater anymore is, for many people, a third choice — following watching on a laptop or through an On Demand service. And let's not even mention that dying format, DVD. So I did review “Dom Hemingway” for Spokane Public Radio.
And here an edited version of that review follows:
Screen presence is hard to define, even when it’s easy to recognize: To borrow a phrase from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart describing pornography, you know it when you see it. Regarding the film “Dom Hemingway,” then, Jude Law’s performance provides evidence that he boasts as much screen presence as any actor alive.
I don’t use the verb “boast” lightly. In “Dom Hemingway,” which was written and directed by U.S. filmmaker Richard Shepard, Law – the London-born star known mostly for playing handsome, urbane characters – affects a sheen of bombast that would make Donald Trump blush. Instead of the lean, well-mannered narrator of “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” for example, Law gives us a hard-bodied crook, going slightly to seed, his receding hairline and mutton-chop whiskers revealing low-brow roots even more than his penchant for profanity does. Indeed, the movie’s opening scene is a face-on shot of Law, nude – from the waist up, anyway – and expounding on the beauty of his penis as someone, out of the frame, is … well, the polite term would be “servicing him.”
Yeah, “Dom Hemingway” aims to make all who watch it blush. But also, and here’s the delicate balance, the film wants us to laugh as well – which I did, more than once.
Our protagonist, who is self-aware enough to admit that he has “anger issues,” is a career criminal, a safecracker who suddenly finds himself released after a dozen years behind bars. But far from causing Dom to feel repentant, those years in prison have, if anything, merely added steam to his swagger. After tracking down and laying a beating on the man who dared to marry his ex-wife, and in the process help raise his daughter – did I mention that our protagonist has “anger issues”? – Dom meets up with his friend Dickie (played by Richard E. Grant) and heads to the south of France.
His intent? To collect his reward from a Russian-born mob boss (played by Demian Bichir) and as many “presents” as he feels entitled to. And Dom feels entitled to a lot, having served out his term without ratting the boss out. Yet because of his talent for self-destruction, Dom just keeps flailing. And just as it appears that everything he wants may finally be within his grasp, he loses – well, nearly everything.
What he does then both stretches credulity and leads, ultimately, to an ending that isn’t so much sappy as merely maudlin – a plot resolution that makes “Dom Hemingway” more of a minor effort than it deserves to be.
But that loss of status can’t detract from “Dom Hemingway’s” most obvious strengths. The first is Shepard’s filmmaking style, which is a studied attempt at fable-making. As a character, Dom isn’t meant to be realistic. And so Shepard exaggerates everything, from what happens – say, a car accident from which Dom and Dickie emerge with only scratches – to how it happens: that same accident occurs in loving, hilarious slow motion.
And the second, of course, is Law’s performance. Instead of British effete, he gives us pure British bravado.