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Review: ‘Dom Hemingway’

Pretty Boy Jude Law Goes Ugly With Style

Above: Jude Law and Richard E. Grant play against type in Richard Shepard's "Dom Hemingway."

Richard Shepard has a way of reinventing actors. He did that with Pierce Brosnan in "Matador," now he does the same for Jude Law and Richard E. Grant in "Dom Hemingway" (opening April 18 at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas).

Companion Viewing

"Matador"

"Withnail and I"

"Closer"

"Dom Hemingway" opens with an in-your-face introduction of its title character played by Jude Law. We find Dom in jail serving 12 years because he followed what he saw as the code of thieves and didn't rat on a fellow crook. When he comes out of prison he immediately sets out to settle some scores. First, beating his late ex-wife's husband to a pulp and second, meeting up with Mr. Fontaine (Demian Birchir), the man he protected by remaining silent. He figures Mr. Fontaine owes him something. But luck is not with Dom. The money he was hoping for vanishes as quickly as it appeared, he can't find work, and his estranged daughter wants to keep him out of her life and her son's. After years of puffing himself up hyperbole and bravado, Dom comes to the realization that he's made a lot of bad choices in his life.

Writer-director Shepard said part of being a good director is "like planning the perfect dinner party." In the case of "Dom Hemingway" it's a dinner party that goes perfectly insane with Law's Dom as the ferocious drunk terrorizes all the guests. The film is a showcase for Law but a a showcase that highlights a whole different side of the actor.

As he did with Brosnan in "Matador," Shepard take Law and asks him to go against the grain of what audiences have come to expect for him.

"Jude is no longer twenty-seven, he’s no longer the young, beautiful leading man, I mean obviously still a good-looking man, but he’s been playing Dr. Watson instead of Sherlock Holmes," Shepard said, "It made some sense that he would be up for a challenge. And I think when you are putting together an independent film, when you don’t have a lot of money, you’ve got to figure out which actors are ready for a challenge and might be attracted to this material. Jude related to Dom and he was sort of excited by the challenge of creating this very larger than life, deeply flawed, sort of wonderfully pathetic character, and it was sort of this weird match. I like taking people’s expectations and turning them around. People might have a preconceived notion about pretty boy Jude and this is sort of the exact opposite of it -- he’s violent, rough, incredible in that performance, also very human and deeply flawed and kind of lovable. So all of these things that you are not quite expecting and I think it makes it more interesting."

It certainly does. As with Ralph Fiennes and Jeremy Irons, Law is far more interesting when he's not playing the romantic lead or heroic type. Dom may have no redeeming qualities yet he somehow makes us care for him in a very genuine way.

"I was interested in how do you define a character and make him so interesting, weirdly both repellant and also charming, that you don’t know where this movie is going to go. And that tension kind is the drama, and instead of one last heist, it’s like please survive, please do the right thing. Please don’t shoot yourself in the foot. All these things hopefully make it fun and have a sense of originality," Shepard said.

Law Is greatly aided by Richard E. Grant as Dom's long suffering buddy Dickie Black. Grant, who dazzled us with his screen debut in "Withnail and I," also gets a bit of a reinvention here as he plays the straight man to Law's loose canon. Usually Grant is the crazy one but here he's the audience's touchstone.

"This is a movie about a petty safecracker," Shepard said, "And it does not end with one last great heist, it ends with a man destroyed by the choices he made and trying with every ounce of strength left in him to do the right thing when he’s never been able to do that. So to me it was a character study set in a sort of familiar world that we think we know. But I wanted to go much deeper into the film as well which is why it is not called 'One Last Heist' or 'The Safecracker,' it’s called 'Dom Hemingway.'"

And let me just say something about that name. Usually films with a character's name -- "Michael Clayton," "Larry Crowne," "Donnie Brasco" -- fail to generate interest since these names often mean nothing to us. But the name "Dom Hemingway" says something intriguing. First off, it sounds like Don but the fact that it's Dom immediately signals that whether intentionally or not this is not a regular guy. It also conjures up a connection to Don Perignon, an elegant, expensive French champagne, but then it is slammed up against the gritty, lean, macho name of Hemingway, the adventure-loving American writer. So right off the bat Shepard grabs our attention.

It's also smartly written and full of drunken bravado and exaggeration that perfectly reflects Dom. The film crackles with dialogue that sets up Dom's character and his relationship with Dickie Black.

"Dom Hemingway" (Rated R for sexual content, nudity, pervasive language, some violence and drug use) is an aggressively in-your-face character study of a man who take the long way round to discovering a sense of maturity and responsibility. The script and the acting make this audaciously fun but with a bit of heart as well.

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