March 30, 2014 | posted in Filmmakers
It began with a single scene floating through Richard Shepard’s head: a convict preparing for his release from prison and relishing the prospect of collecting on the debts those on the outside owe him. When he sat down to write it, Shepard knew that he had found gold. The rest of “Dom Hemingway” flowed out as naturally as breathing.
It takes skill and experience to reach that level of writing synergy. Shepard, who has been in the business since 1990 and who almost graduated from NYU (there was just that one pesky science class...), has both. His work on the pilot episode of the television series “Ugly Betty” earned him an Emmy and a Directors Guild of America award, and he has been involved in the creation and development of many other award-winning and household-name shows. His films are lower-profile only because they tend to be too cerebral for summer popcorn fare. A-list actors, however, jump at the chance to work with Shepard.
Whether delving into offbeat comedy (“The Linguini Incident”) or crime thriller (“Mexico City”) or hybrids of both (“The Matador,” “The Hunting Party”), Shepard’s films are unflinching character studies which find both their comedy and their drama in the messy complexity of the human mind. “There’s a great tradition of smart, slightly-off crime thrillers,” he explains, “movies with a criminal undertone, yet are really about fascinating human characters.”
Shepard’s deft handling of this tradition is what makes the titular anti-hero of his latest film, safe-cracker Dom Hemingway, so compelling. “Despite Dom shooting himself in the foot at every turn,” he says, “you like him. He has his own ways of dealing with things and most of the time they get him in trouble.”
The synergy didn’t stop with the creation of the script. Although initially surprised when Jude Law expressed interest in playing Dom, Shepard was swiftly won over after the two met. “I knew from those first few pints with Jude that his vision of what Dom should be was exactly what I wanted. He became a collaborator . . . And then we got to a point where we were reading each other’s minds about what would make sense for Dom to do, and it was incredibly fun to be part of that.”
The result is a portrait of a flawed, volatile man with hidden depths, who “uses language as much as his fists to gain attention.” In spite of his disagreeable side, Dom is someone audiences will want to root for.
“Dom is a devilish rascal of a man,” Shepard points out, “yet deep down he has a real beating heart that starts to beat again by the end of the movie.”
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