With an English accent, you can get away with a lot.
From the very first shot - an extended, foul-mouthed epic poem to the glory of his own sex organ - Jude Law's titular Dom Hemingway exudes the very specific rapscallion charm British bad boys have in spades. But this film, written and directed by Richard Shepard (of "The Matador" and some of the best episodes of "Girls") is not just another case of glamorizing an outlaw.
Indeed, the opening shot of gratification ends with a punchline - Dom Hemingway is simultaneously a cool guy and a goof, a sliver-tongued genius and a bit of a dumbass. It's a marvelous and rich character and Jude Law, a little puffier and hairier than usual (he looks like Liev Schreiber in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine") turns in a career best performance.
Presented with "Hannah and Her Sisters"-esque chapter breaks, "Dom Hemingway" seems at first like unconnected episodes, but slowly reveals itself to be a touching look at a somewhat sociopathic brute's adaptation to normal society.
Dom's been in prison for 12 years and the first thing he does when he gets out is nonchalantly beat the hell out of a man who lived with his wife while he was inside. "You were divorced!" the man cries. But Dom doesn't care. He's got his own twisted logic - bashing this guy's head in is, in his way, the right thing to do.
Next he goes to the South of France to get the money he's owed for keeping his mouth shut in prison. A Caligulan escapade at the Big Bosses' place (Demian Bichir) which basically includes money baths seems to have made the long sit in the pokey worth it. Then some unexpected (and hilarious) misfortune crushed Dom's dreams. At the coaxing of his only friend (Richard E. Grant, metrosexually stealing every moment he's on screen) Dom visits his long lost daughter.
Emilia Clarke (unrecognizable without her blonde locks or dragons) is now a young mother and wed to an Anglo-Senegalese man - the only person who seems to take pity on Dom. What you THINK is going to happen is that this movie is going to go soft and this will become some sort of sappy reconciliation picture. The thrust toward that resolution is what drives the remainder of the movie, but "Dom Hemingway" is far more interested in having vulgar, violent and hilarious fun along the way.
There are additional side-trips through the world of London's criminal element, and having Richard E. Grant present for wry commentary makes it impossible not to frame this movie as something of a "Withnail & I Meets The Mafia." That's hardly a bad thing. There are countless clever dialogue parries as well as some quite outstanding rants. It definitely takes the movie outside of the world of pure realism, but the theatricality is well worth it. There are lines in this film that movie buffs will be quoting for years to come.
"Dom Hemingway" is a success because it finds the balance. No, this isn't the BEST crime movie or the BEST redemption story or even the BEST British character-based comedy. But it is nevertheless a very pleasant combination where all the spokes compliment one another. Blending genre is among the most difficult things to do in cinema, and "Dom Hemingway" makes it look (to quote) easy, peasy lemon squeezy.
SCORE: 8.5 / 10