As “Dom Hemingway” opens, the titular character stands naked while giving a prolonged monologue about his privates. He is not a particularly likeable man — at first, you want to punch him and about half way into the film, you wish he would leave the screen forever. However, the film eventually manages to win you over with its gleefully wicked charm, courtesy of Jude Law’s hilariously unhinged performance as Dom.
A safecracker by trade, Dom spent 12 years in prison for keeping his boss’ secrets, and now he wants the reward from that employer — Mr. Fontaine (Demián Bichir). Bringing along his partner in crime Dickey (Richard E. Grant), Dom confronts Fontaine for the hush money. But the deal goes awry, and Dom hits rock bottom having lost his money, shelter and dignity.
Unlike other British gangster films that overly indulge in style and excessive violence, writer-director Richard Shepard makes “Dom Hemingway” a comedic character study of an anti-hero at a crossroads with his career and family.
The film consists of a collection of vignettes rather than a straightforward narrative, aided by title cards that introduce each chapter of Dom’s post-prison life. Despite Dom’s predilection for substance abuse and loose women, he has a heart of gold.
The film presents emotional scenes in a cliché way as Dom tries to make peace with his wife’s death and reconnect with his long-lost daughter Evelyn (Emilia Clarke), yet viewers begrudgingly develop sympathy for his character. A dozen years in prison is a long time, and audiences respect Dom enough that they want to see him succeed.
Karma becomes another anchor for the film when Dom saves a woman after a car crash. She tells him that he will have good luck in the future for his good deed. Though the plot point is a lazy way to move the story along, it still manages to reveal more of Dom’s soft interior, which is often overshadowed by his chubby, chain-smoking exterior.
Although the majority of crude humor in the film is entertaining — particularly the banter between Dom and Dickey — occasionally the dialogue is so vulgar that it distracts from the joke.
The film is very much like its indelicate titular character. At first, it is difficult to enjoy because it spits in the audience’s face with obnoxious attitude. But, over time, viewers will begin to surreptitiously chuckle at the antics until the last shot of the film, after which they will leave sporting the same ear-to-ear grin as Dom himself.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, April 2 print edition. Zach Grullon is a staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.