It’s said that there are only seven original plots. I’ve never bothered to seriously investigate this claim, but I think I can give it the benefit of the doubt, given what I’ve accumulated from years of movie watching. For any narrative artist – an author, a poet, a songwriter, a filmmaker – the trick is not to come up with an original plot, but to find clever ways to disguise or make bearable a plot’s complete lack of originality. The issue with Dom Hemingway, a comedy/drama about an ex-con trying to pick up the pieces of his life, is that writer/director Richard Shepard doesn’t take this extra step; though competently made and well cast, and in spite of some emotionally compelling scenes, he tells a story so rote and predictable that you might as well watch the film with a checklist of genre clichés.
The title character, played by Jude Law, is a London safecracker whose hot-headedness and hedonism pale in comparison to his cockiness. There are select scenes in which he pontificates his own greatness, always loudly and with great intensity, always using language that would make a sailor blush. During the opening sequence, for example, he’s in prison receiving oral sex from an inmate, and all throughout, he does nothing but repetitively boast about his penis. Later on, while being driven on a stretch of country road in the middle of the night, he will stand up on the car seat and excitedly shout into the darkness that he is Dom Hemingway. Psychologically, we can gather from all this that, deep within, he’s a tremendously insecure person. Indeed, in spite of his swagger and self-destructive habits, there are times when he proves himself capable of recognizing how badly he has managed his life.
As the story begins, Dom has just finished a twelve-year prison sentence and makes up for lost time with a night of alcohol, drugs, and women. Determined to collect the money he’s owed from his last robbery, he reunites with his friend and former accomplice, the one-handed Dickie (Richard E. Grant), and heads for the south of France. This is where they meet their old boss, a wealthy Russian crime lord known professionally as Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir), who Dom could have easily implicated twelve years earlier but didn’t. Mr. Fontaine promises to give Dom his cut of the money, even after Dom unwisely goes on a drunken rant against him. Without delving into specifics, things don’t go as planned. They never do in movies like this. Dom is forced to return to London, where he must now face the mistakes he made in his past.
This is when we meet his estranged daughter, a singer named Evelyn (Emilia Clarke), whom he hasn’t seen since she was a child. Now in a relationship and with a young son, she’s furious at her father and harbors no desire to have him in her life. Her reasons are justifiable. Ratting on Mr. Fontaine would have resulted in a drastically reduced prison sentence. This would have given Dom the opportunity to say goodbye to his ex-wife, who succumbed to cancer, and in turn be there to raise Evelyn instead of her stepfather. Not that her stepfather was a bad man. Not in Evelyn’s eyes, at least; Dom views him as thief, stealing away something that was rightfully his, even though it hadn’t been his for quite some time. When Dom was released from prison, the first thing he did was track Evelyn’s stepfather down and beat him until his face became unrecognizable.
Intertwined with Dom’s strained attempts at reconciling with his daughter is his inevitable calling back into crime. Desperate for an opportunity, he pathetically begs for an audience with a newly appointed crime kingpin named Lestor (Jumayn Hunter), the son of a man he once had dealings with. Lestor, who cannot be older than twenty-five, initially refuses to give Dom the time of day; he has held a grudge against Dom since childhood for killing his beloved pet cat. Being a cat owner myself, I’m compelled to admit that, if I were Lestor, I would probably hold a grudge, too. Be that as it may, Lestor eventually agrees to test Dom and his legendary magic fingers, challenging him to crack a modern-day, supposedly impenetrable safe within a given window of time. If he fails … well, let’s just say that his manhood is quite literally on the line.
It’s the duty of a film critic to not spoil endings or any kind of emotional or narrative climax when writing his or her reviews. I fully intend to live up to my obligation. But given everything I’ve told you about the plot of Dom Hemingway, most notably the title character’s quest to reclaim his cut of the money and make amends with his daughter, can you honestly say that you don’t already know how it will turn out? You can see the direction this story is moving in as early as the first act, and by the time it ends, rather than satisfaction, we’re left with the feeling of having seen the same thing a thousand times before. That doesn’t make it a bad movie. There are, in fact, aspects of it I liked a great deal. The cast is universally good, and Law has an especially powerful scene in the final act. But on the whole, there isn’t much this movie can give you that other similar movies can’t.
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