Director Richard Shepard has gone down such a dark, twisted and quirky path with his "Dom Hemingway," the film comes across as the Brit's answer to "Pulp Fiction." Just like the 1994 film from Quentin Tarantino, "Dom Hemingway" embraces the dark side of humanity while showing that some light can still exist in the opaqueness of evil.
Jude Law turns in the most compelling and disturbing performance of his career as the central figure in this tale of lust, larceny and lunacy. From the moment his character appears on screen in a venom-filled monologue, there's no question Law has crawled inside the creepy skin of this character and given it terrifying life.
Hemingway finally gets out of prison after 12 years, doing time for refusing to rat on his boss, Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir), and now he's ready to get paid for his silence. Along with his best buddy and criminal mate, Dickie Black (Richard E. Grant), the pair head to Fontaine's isolated mansion.
The first half of the film is Hemingway's awkward return to society. Law never holds back, delivering each line with such intensity that it looks like he's going to have a heart attack with each raw emotion-filled syllable.
Shepard — who both wrote and directed the film — shows great confidence in the performances by Law and Grant as he let's them rant and rave their way to what ends up being a fateful meeting. That's smart. Both are so compelling that any big theatrical move by Shepard would lessen the impact of their work.
The film takes a dramatic turn in the middle, accented by a car crash scene presented in an amazingly original way. It serves as the junction between the exposed nerves of the first half and the slightly more sentimental tone of the second part. Shepard never completely dulls the raw animal energy that Law brings to the role, but he allows Law to show some humanity.
A lot of this comes from Hemingway's attempts to reconcile with a daughter who has written him off for dead. Because Shepard has set such a dark and quirky tone for the film, a complete transformation of Hemingway would have come across as forced and fake. The director never lets that happen. He retains the emotional black hole of Hemingway while allowing room for growth.
His approach works because Law and Grant turn in such masterful performances. Law digs deep to create this scary — and yet occasionally sympathetic — character, while Grant's performance shows such desperate (and probably misguided) loyalty the character comes across as part street hustler and part Jiminy Cricket.
The brutal emotions of the script mixed with the untethered performances make "Dom Hemingway" the kind of movie that viewers will either deeply hate or passionately love. Shepard leaves no room for a middle ground.
"Dom Hemingway," rated R for violence, drug use, language, nudity. Stars Jude Law, Richard E. Grant. Directed by Richard Shepard. Running time: 93 minutes. Grade: B+
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, email@example.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter.