Blu-ray Review: Dom Hemingway

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Dom Hemingway is a tremendous showcase for Jude Law, who stars as the title character. Funny, furious, and surprisingly physically-imposing (considering his normally slight build; he bulked up significantly for the role), this showy performance is one of the best of his career. There’s a reason the film is specifically named after the character: it’s a cock-eyed character study of a very unpredictable individual who commands attentions in virtually every frame. His name is fitting, too. Dom is an appropriate first name for someone so domineering, while Hemingway befits someone with such a flair for words. In fact, though he’s an abrasive, ex-con safe-cracker, Dom speaks with the dramatic flourishes of a born poet. His opening soliloquy—a gloriously over the top, profane ode to his own member—is perfect evidence supporting the idea that this career criminal missed his true calling.

When we meet Dom, he’s being released from prison after serving a 12-year sentence. He could’ve done far less time had he ratted out Mr. Fontaine (Demián Bichir), a crime boss for whom he performed many robberies. The cost of loyalty was steep. While behind bars, Dom’s wife died of cancer and his daughter basically grew up without parents. He now has a grandson he’s never met and only one true friend left, Dickie (Richard E. Grant). On top of adjusting to his new-found freedom, Dom is dealing with emotional instability so severe it appears to be some sort of undiagnosed psychiatric condition. After a volatile encounter with Mr. Fontaine, he’s overjoyed to discover his boss is rewarding him with a handsome sum as a gift for keeping his mouth shut.

The fun thing about Dom Hemingway is that writer-director Richard Shepard repeatedly sidesteps clichés, even when we start to get the sneaking suspicion that we’ve seen this story before. There are a multitude of surprising twists, to the point where it’s simply not a great idea to reveal too much. An accident spoils Dom’s dreams of a hedonistic lifestyle and he has to face the remnants of the life he left behind after his conviction. Shepard studiously avoids sappiness by making sure Dom never loses his edge or his self-destructive, chaos-inducing tendencies. The fractured relationship between Dom and his daughter, Evelyn (Emilia Clarke), is realistically handled, as is Dom’s intense delayed-grieving over the loss of his wife. Law plays all sides of Dom with equally convincing intensity, somehow maintaining likability despite the more unsavory aspects of the character.

Fox’s Blu-ray offers a richly satisfying presentation of Giles Nuttgens’ digital cinematography. The relatively stylized look holds up extremely well, with a nearly garish, bold red dominating the color scheme. Black levels are solid, which is important for a movie that boasts so many dark, deliberately murky scenes. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix is less attention-grabbing, but equally free of problems. Occasionally we get some surprising audio jolts from the rear speakers that keep things interesting. Rolfe Kent’s score is fairly subtle, but expertly blended within the mix.

The primary supplement is an enthusiastic audio commentary by writer-director Richard Shepard. There are also ten minutes or so of promotional featurettes. These give us a standard-issue, superficial glimpse at the making of the film, featuring brief interviews with the primary cast and crew. The “Ping Pong Loop” is literally a 30-minute loop of a ten-second clip of two topless women playing ping pong. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll immediately remember where this footage was utilized. I’m not sure why anyone would watch this for more than a minute, tops. The Blu-ray package also includes an UltraViolet digital copy.

Give Dom Hemingway a spin, if only for Jude Law’s incredible performance. But there’s enough great dialogue and surprising plotting to keep the entire 93 minutes quite interesting.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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