Imagine Sexy Beast’s Don Logan suddenly developing a heart halfway through Jonathan Glazer’s film. Unfathomable, isn’t it. This is the unfortunate trajectory of Jude Law’s volatile, large-than-life parolee in Richard Shepard’s comedy drama Dom Hemingway (2013), which squanders its early promise with a pedestrian and muddled second half. Released from prison after a twelve-year spell, flamboyant safe-cracker Dom Hemingway (Law) is taken to a lavish mansion in the South of France with old friend Dickie (Richard E. Grant) to collect his reward for keeping quiet in the nick from crime lord Mr. Fontaine (Demián Bichir).
Dom’s drink and drug-fuelled ego continually threatens to destroy the goodwill Fontaine extends to the duo. One major car accident and run-in with a femme fatale later, Dom realises that his main priority might be reconnecting with estranged daughter, Evelyn (Emilia Clarke). The film’s opening prison scene has a naked, pumped-up Law deliver a near–frenzied, animalistic monologue about his manhood. It’s a bold introduction which promises much, and for the first half-hour or so, Dom Hemingway delivers on the outlandish. The problem occurs after the story lands with a thud back on home soil, as if Shepard (on scriptwriting duties here) suddenly realises there’s nowhere interesting to take his eccentric protagonist.
The bulk of the second half has Dom trying to reconnect with his surviving family, whilst pestering his former criminal adversary’s son for a job. Neither of these strands can muster anywhere near the same darkly comic malevolence which fuels the early scenes in France. The character’s return to London leads from one contrived encounter to the next, even straying into Lock, Stock mockney territory towards the end (like Guy Richie’s aforementioned debut, it also features some questionable performances from those playing underworld types).
Law is very good as the psychopath with the Russell Brand-esque cadence (he certainly brings the right physicality to the part) but his character suffers greatly from the film’s tonal shift, with that thuggish persona mysteriously ebbing away. The great Grant is also fantastic, coming across as an older, wizened version of Withnail. As such, many of Dom Hemingway’s belly laughs result from Dickie desperately trying to rein Dom in during their trip abroad. If only Shepard had concentrated on this disarming odd couple routine for the duration.