Since it opened Wednesday, Richard Shepard's "Dom Hemingway" has divided critics, some of whom have admired its deliberate subversion of heist movie conventions and others who wondered if the plot had gone a little too missing.
The filmmaker, though, says that his Jude Law movie-starrer — about a volatile crook's checkered attempt to start a life on Easy Street after being released from a long prison sentence — consciously sought to avoid one-big-score and other story lines traditionally found in heist movies.
"I purposely wrote a movie that was a crime movie with no crime in it," Shepard said. "I wanted every expectation of the genre subverted in some capacity."
Shepard, best known for directing the equally genre-messing crime drama "The Matador," said he understood that the antihero, the titular Dom, could rub some people with the wrong way. Indeed, some have found it hard to spend time with the character, who, though he has a kind of endearing swagger, also has a tendency to violent outbursts that draw blood from many, including himself.
But Shepard said he enjoyed the challenge of making likable someone as volcanic as Dom Hemingway.
"You're following a guy you think is a crazy, loutish hothead but by the end of the movie hopefully you're surprisingly emotionally invested in him," Shepard said. Law in an interview noted he thought that audiences "five minutes in might ask 'do I want to spend time with this guy' but an hour in might find he's seduced you." (More on Law's attempted career reinvention here.)
Shepard has another genre-flavored creation coming — the April 20 debut of "Salem," the WGN America original scripted series about the infamous witches — and is among the group of directors that moves easily between film and TV; he also has directed about a half-dozen "Girls" episodes over the last several years.
In fact, Shepard called on an unlikely voice from that show in crafting this movie: "Girls" creator Lena Dunham.
"Lena read 'Dom Hemingway' and also gave an enormous amount of notes," Shepard said
Really? And what did the maestro of Millennial melancholy have to say about a story of a working-class British criminal?
"She had some very particular notes on a number of scenes — logic questions, pointed notes about several of the relationships," he said. "Lena has this innate quality, this … detector that's key to making anything better, especially a movie about a complicated character like Dom."
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