Clocking in at a brisk runtime of 93 minutes, DOM HEMINGWAY is a curious film that somehow manages to be both too ambitious and too short at the same time. Director Richard Shepard certainly knows the type of stories he wants to tell about the titular Dom Hemingway, a London safe-cracker looking for his place in the world after serving a 12 year stint in prison. Through the film, Hemingway struggles with readjusting to a world that has left him in the dust over the past decade of isolation, tries to collect on an old debt, longs for a relationship with his daughter and grandchild, and tries to reintegrate himself into the criminal underground.
Each of these story elements holds the potential for solid story telling, but the break-neck pace of the film rushes Dom from situation to situation without every allowing a scene to breath. A longer run time or a more judicious editing hand with the script may have solved this fatal problem, allowing either more time for plot points to play out, or elimination extraneous sequences. Instead, we’re left with the film that fails to cram four fully realized acts into a three act structure.
When it comes to stylistic choices, Shepard employs a manic, confused approach that is frustrating not because of its ever-shifting focus, but instead due to the obvious potential that Shepard possesses. There are several well-crafted, creative, and inspired sequences in DOM HEMINGWAY, beginning with a spell-binding, yet coarse, monologue about Hemingway’s penis. The film utilizes chapter titles to isolate scenes, and a beautifully executed slow motion crash sequence that is sure to be seen as its stand out moment.
The problem isn’t in the execution of the individual sequences, but in the inconsistent voice that Shepard utilizes in bridging these sequences. Here is a director with a grand vision and a nifty bag of tricks to draw from, but who never finds a way of bringing cohesion to end product. If someone told me that a panel of directors had each independently directed moments from this film, I would have no trouble believing it.
Jude Law takes the lead role, playing a career criminal at war with himself. Hemingway feels comfortable immersed in the criminal underworld, constantly craving the next ‘big score’ that funds his addictions to drugs, alcohol, and easy women. At the same time, he wants to reconnect with his daughter, a capable young woman with a child of her own. In his heart, Dom knows that reconciliation comes at the cost of the lifestyle to which he has come accustomed. Jude plays the part with an intense energy that never abates, thrashing recklessly against any obstacle that comes in his way. The performance is solid, although some sequences showcase Jude’s talents better than others. The film suffers from clumsy dialogue, making interactions appear stilted or awkward at times. When Jude is allowed to rant or monologue, the character truly comes to life.
If I were grading this film merely on its potential, on the unfocused talent of the director, on the strengths of the script, and on the performance Jude Law turns in, this would be an easy A+. Potential doesn’t count for much when it is wasted, however; as an end product DOM HEMINGWAY is passable, but not extraordinary. Its merits certainly make it worth watching, although this one may have more value as a rental than a theatrical experience.
DOM HEMINGWAY will open on Friday, April 18th at Violet Crown Cinema and Regal Arbor Cinemas.