Much like its protagonist, Dom Hemingway manages to be oddly likable despite never really working out the glaring issues contained within it. Jude Law plays the titular character, a safe-cracking rough who is released from prison after a 12-year stretch and looks to collect on what he feels is owed to him. Though Dom's exact crime is not clear, the gravity of what he has done for his former associates is. His time in jail came at great personal cost -- his wife dying of cancer and his estranged daughter growing up while he was incarcerated. And that cost bubbles just beneath a confident veneer that is obviously an overcompensation for his deep regret.
Dom Hemingway looks silly. He and his friend Dickie (Richard E. Grant) wear gaudy-colored leisure suits that, even if one assumes he's missed out on a dozen years of fashion while in jail, are ridiculously anachronistic. He talks funny too -- the film almost reduced to a string of his odd soliloquys, punctuated by traumatic moments of misfortune.
The film begins with a tight, steady shot of Dom delivering a lengthy ode to his own member as he receives oral sex from someone just out of frame. As his speech comes to a close, that someone is revealed as a fellow inmate in prison. It's not exactly a surprising moment -- who else could it be -- but it is unsettling all the same because who talks (and talks and talks) like that?
He delivers a similarly outrageous speech upon his release when he and Dickie travel to France to collect payment from Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir), the man he protected with his prison term. Fontaine is exceedingly dangerous. Despite that, Dom doesn't really ask for compensation for his time in jail so much as he demands it, insulting his former boss in the process when he does not get what he wants immediately. He does all this beneath three enormous paintings of apes -- a humorous setting for a deeply desperate moment. Here is a man who feels like he has done the right thing by not snitching and only been punished for it. If he doesn't at least get some money for his many troubles, then his last 12 years lose any shred of meaning.
When Dom somehow manages to get his money (and not get killed by Fontaine for his harsh words), he gives another grand I-am-Dom-Hemingway speech, this one as he, Fontaine, Dickie and a few nameless, scantily-clad women careen around the roads South France drinking champagne. Dom, driving one of Fontaine's sports cars, eventually rises out of his seat, as if to drive home his point. The scene takes on the hazy feel of a drunken night with a head full of champagne, and its inevitable aftermath -- a nasty, fatal car wreck -- brings reality crashing home.
This sort of fantasy-reality push-pull must have been what writer and director Richard Shepard was after. There is what Dom believes about himself, and there is what everyone else can see, and after 12 years behind bars the gulf between the two is often massive. It is present throughout the film -- in the scenes I have described above, yes, but most acute when he returns to London and attempts to both repair his damaged relationship with his daughter Evelyn (Emilia Clarke) and scrape together some more money after losing his small fortune in the accident.
Were Dom a better person, he would be spending all of his time with Evelyn and the grandchildren he has never met. Of course, there's no way he'd be where he ends up if he were a better person.
Dom Hemingway is a supremely odd film. It's like an alternate-world Guy Ritchie film, and though it is billed as a dark comedy, an alt-world Guy Ritchie film ends up possessing a profound melancholy. It's not bad, but it does end up becoming something that it does not seem to want to be.