Opening on a prison scene with Jude Law giving a demented soliloquy while receiving fellatio, Dom Hemingway is a film that fittingly piques early and sputters out without any real satisfaction.
The film stars Jude Law as the titular Dom Hemingway, tracking his debased exploits as he works to get his due after 12 years in the slammer. The main plot has Dom 1) partying with hookers and blow 2) snarling and foaming at the mouth as he spouts haiku-like abuses at those around him.
Here, Jude Law overacts so hard as if trying to induce an aneurysm – bulging his eyes like Schwarzenegger on Mars in Total Recall. These outbursts are followed by moments of remorse and abashed self-reflection, otherwise weak attempts at providing the character, and film, with some dimension.
If the movie were content to remain a Jude Law biopic about sex, drugs and vulgarity, it would have worked just fine. However, it insists on stuffing in uninspired drama, with a cliche, snooze-fest subplot about Dom trying to win back the affection of his estranged daughter, who wants nothing to do with him.
If Law is a hard sell as an uncouth mobster, donning a tailored and fashionable three piece as he struts the back alleys of Londontown, he’s an even harder sell as a father to a fully grown woman who looks more like she could play his love interest. The ex-con/repentant father role would have been better handled by someone like Ray Winstone, who would more believably hit the pitiful lows (if not the coke-snorting highs), where Law remains too dignified despite seemingly unraveling.
The lead casting isn’t the only one that sticks out as a hard sell; the supporting cast is so weak that Law is left overworked in every scene. It’s like he’s trying to conjure a halo effect to elevates the dull performances around him. Jumayn Hunter, meant to be portraying a crime lord, is about as menacing as a precocious pre-teen. Consequently, moment of tension, such as when he threatens to cut off Dom’s genitalia, ends up flaccid and ineffectual.
And so, 12 Years a Convict proves to be a movie that hangs a poor script on the shoulders of a single performance. Jude Law is left carrying the entire affair and manages to keep things entertaining, despite and often because he’s working so damn hard.
However, heavy is the performance that wears a poor film. Where Dom Hemingway really falters is in trying to make an incorrigible and outrageous character flawed and relatable. Its dramatic reach ends up way beyond its grasp, undermining the entire thing. In many ways, it should have simply settled for being a scandalous, superficial affair.
In the end, it’s no wonder that the camera often stays centered on Law – he’s the only thing worthwhile about the film. In the end, it’s the film that proves incorrigible, as even his performance can’t save it.