3.5 out of 4 stars
In a recent interview Rob Lowe complained that his career had been hurt early on because he lost out on roles due to his looks. He was told (or so he says) that he was too handsome to be taken seriously. How much of that is true is debatable; Lowe has never been known for his thespian prowess, but Jude Law has and has often been labeled a pretty boy. In “Dom Hemingway,” Law — solely through just the personality of the title character — will go far in convincing many previous naysayers he can act quite well.
The film opens with a naked Law in the middle of a sex act and talking very dirty directly to the camera. He’s obviously bulked up for the part, backed up his hairline a bit and though ripped and handsome in a thug sort of way, he is not “pretty.” Dom is Robert De Niro in “Cape Fear” sans the tattoos and Ben Kingsley in “Sexy Beast” with hair and muscle mass and possesses more misplaced ego and attitude than both of them put together.
Dom is finishing a 12-year prison term that would have been shorter had he ratted on his partner Dickie (Richard E. Grant) and their Russian boss Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir). Dom has a bunch of unpleasant traits (alcoholism, drugs, anger management issues, sexual deviancy and poor parenting), but he also adheres to the “honor among thieves” credo with absolute unwavering dedication and he’s looking to be rewarded for it.
In the 12 years since Dom went away there have been many changes that sometimes catch him off-guard and his reactions make for some superb fish-out-of-water humor. He’s told he can’t smoke in a pub, thinks Dickie’s wearing of one black glove is a fashion statement and that his estranged daughter Evelyn (Emilia Clarke) sings in a band and is the mother of a mixed-race child.
Dom recognizes no middle ground on anything, always shoots from the hip and has no filter between his booze-soaked brain and his mouth. He’s slovenly, crude, rude and prone to embarrass himself and everyone around him every time he opens his yap (which is essentially the entire running length of the movie) but he is also nearly impossible not to like. It’s oddly refreshing to come across a criminal character in a movie that doesn’t bring with them secondary (mostly deceitful) agendas but that’s not the case with Dom. He does bad things (sometimes to innocent people) but it’s hard not to respect, if not outright admire a character so pure, forthright and unadulterated.
Split up into chapters with title cards that recall Quentin Tarantino, writer/director Richard Shepard presents the 93-minute production in a half-dozen or so quasi-short films with each getting a beginning-middle-end narrative arc. By going this route Shepard takes a few short-cuts with the screenplay and there are a handful of instances where it doesn’t quite work so well but it’s easy to overlook given Law’s unhinged but measured performance of those of the supporting cast.
Many will rightfully call this the finest performance of Law’s career and they won’t at all be wrong. It is easily his best effort in what is mostly a comedy (a very black comedy), but if you really want proof that Law has flirted with greatness before, watch him in “Closer” and “Cold Mountain.” The former also has bits of dark humor throughout and the latter is one of the finest Civil War dramas ever made. In both, Law said little yet was able to speak volumes of emotion with facial expressions and measured silence. Both roles were complete opposites of Dom and show us an actor in possession of enormous range.
Rob Lowe can complain all he wants to about how being handsome is a curse while working within an industry that usually values looks over talent but he’s sorely mistaken. There have been dozens, if not hundreds, of men and women who are both incredibly easy on the eyes and also great actors, but he’s not one of them. It’s also a safe bet that Lowe couldn’t get close to ever pulling off what Law does in this film. (Fox Searchlight)