“Dom Hemingway” tries to be stylish and outgoing, but bad storytelling dampens the mood

Alex Pelham

Some films put more effort in their style than their substance, focusing on flashy camera work, sharp editing and elaborate settings. As long as the film contains a rich enough story to support the extravagant style, this practice is fine. Unfortunately, “Dom Hemingway” is too obsessed with looking good to tell a coherent story. It has all the elements for a fantastic tale but wastes its stellar protagonist and an interesting setup at almost every turn.

Having just been released from a 12-year prison stint, former safecracker Dom Hemingway (Jude Law) seeks to claim his reward for taking the punishment for the crimes of mob boss Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir). After the rendezvous goes south, he and his best friend Dickie (Richard E. Grant) head back to London, where Hemingway hopes to score a job from former nemesis Lestor (Jumayn Hunter) and to reconnect with his estranged daughter Evelyn (Emilia Clarke).

“Dom Hemingway” has all the quirks of a Tarantino film. It possesses great energy and a flare for offbeat humor, liberal usage of intertitles and fast-paced, profanity-laden dialogue. But these only benefit a film with a compelling narrative, and the film’s story flails between plot points with no clear direction and no control of its own pacing. The narrative take interesting turns but ultimately is too confused about its own identity to be meaningful. 

The film has something of a personality disorder, straddling the line between family dramedy and crime film. Motivations change on a whim while characters disappear from the plot with little explanation and then miraculously reappear by sheer convenience. “Hemingway’s” world attempts to set itself up as a fantastical land where this is acceptable, but ultimately it feels like a cheap shortcut for the plot. The film’s unexplained luck and open, unappealing conclusion also hurt the story and added to a few confusing plot developments.

“Hemingway’s” strength stems from the charm of its lead. Law clearly has a blast as Hemingway and channels both arrogance and vicious anger perfectly. Everything about him is crude, loud,and obnoxious, yet Law’s personality makes him extremely likeable and hilarious. Grant is also enjoyable as Hemingway’s stiff and cynical wingman. The banter between them is amusing and makes up the more humorous parts of the film. Unfortunately, the supporting cast is so weakly developed that they have no apparent personality. Clarke, who has very little screen time in an already short film, is never deepened past a musically talented woman with daddy issues. What should have been an exciting role to act becomes sidelined by other, less interesting characters and plotlines including Hemingway and his brief attempts to reenter the field of safecracking.

Director and writer Richard Shepard obviously had large ambition during the production of “Dom Hemmingway,” which shows through the colorful language and passionate characters. It can’t support the poor, flimsy story that doesn’t have a clear idea where it wishes to go. This is a shame, as the film’s cartoonish characters are entertaining and refreshing. The film ultimately ends up as proof that a superfluous style must be acquainted with an equally interesting and coherent plot in order to truly function as a likeable, worthwhile picture.