“Is my cock exquisite?”, Dom Hemingway demanded to me and the entirety of the sixth form study area, the scratching of pens ceasing somewhat abruptly. Atleast, he would have done had the glorious invention of the inner-ear headphones not crossed my path sooner (I will never take those curly coils of irritation for granted ever again). With a corker of an opener like that – succeeded by a rather theatrical monologue surrounding the nature of Hemingway’s genitalia – you would expect bold things, hilarious things, great things to come. But Richard Shepherd’s gangster feature never quite tips the mark.
Hemingway is a criminal, and after serving twelve years in prison, seeks payment for not “ratting out” boss Fontaine, with the help of his impassive but rather lovable best friend, Dickie. Amidst this loose story, tales of an estranged daughter and the innocent murder of a club owner’s tabby seem to spring up, though, what you take from the narrative is hard to pin down (or identify at all…). It feels like a theatrical number – snappy Butterworth-esque dialogue (for those who have seen his play, Mojo, you can relate) and what seemed like stage-orientated direction. And while a large bulk of Dom’s lines are actually quite funny, they would perhaps have had more humorous impact on stage, lights streaming, the audience aiding the choral laughter. But alone, in my dimly-lit bedroom, my mood wavered around the mark of boredom too many times to mention.
That is apart from one perfectly stylized shot towards the beginning of the film, involving a sports car, a wind machine, and a flying leather-glove-donned fake hand. Let’s just say the whole thing peaked far too early.
Possibly the main problem is the film doesn’t know its own style. From shot guns, blow jobs and luxurious European gangster-pads, to English inner-city tower-block suburbia. The tone changes from one shot to the next and, before you know it, Dom is swaggering down graffiti-swamped side streets, scabby face and ill-fitting suit somewhat shrouding the slick criminality of his preceding chapter. The only blatant consistency is his ever-intact pride.
The supporting, or perhaps collateral, characters are all a bit paper-thin. Now, we have to grant the film its unashamed focus on The Dom Hemingway (the title says it all) but, for all his speeches and declarations of one thing or another, there is little response. Dom gets the best lines; the others, the fillers. Who is Dickie, behind the stern facade and infamous glove? And why does he choose to wear those yellow-tinted shades? Important questions, clearly. But no matter how gangster a flick, something’s got to give.
The classic case of ‘the cast and crew appearing to have more fun making the film than the patient viewers watching it’ strikes again.