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Domino Review

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by AVForums Feb 1, 2006

    Domino Review
    Domino Harvey was certainly a larger than life character. Socialite daughter of famous British thespian Laurence Harvey and supermodel Pauline Stone, Domino left behind a privileged youth in England to take up Bounty hunting in the States. After battling drug addiction for many years, and due to stand trial on intent-to-supply charges, she was found dead in her bathtub at age 35 of accidental overdose. Her intriguing and ultimately tragic tale could potentially have made a superb film. Never ones to let the facts get in the way of a true story however, Tony Scott's Domino presents the lead character not as the mixed-up addict with underdeveloped social skills, but instead as an all action gal, kind of a seedier, not entirely above board female James Bond. The end result is an enjoyable enough action flick on a good day, a bit of a mess on a bad one. When the opening credits state “Based on a true story. Sort of.” you kind of know what to expect from the film. The very scenario of a skinny little English rich girl turning hard-assed bounty hunter in the Nevada desert is the kind of concept the film industry would jump at. What we have here is not a film about Domino Harvey the person, more a film about Domino Harvey the romantic myth. Scott and screenwriter Richard Kelly have taken the ethos of Harvey, sprinkled it with the bare minimum of facts and then wove a high-octane Hollywood action flick into it. Here we have Laurence Harvey popping his clogs twenty years later, Paula Stone re-envisaged as Sophie Wynn, and Domino herself not touching anything harder than the odd cheeky cigarette. Anyone expecting anywhere near a realistic and truthful account of the events might as well give up hope. If you want to see Keira Knightley sporting a awfully posh accent and whipping criminal butt with nunchuks, then come on down. Taking Domino at face value as an action flick, then it just about succeeds. This is thanks in no small part to an energetic and nicely written script by Donnie Darko helmer Richard Kelly. Kelly's complex interwoven narrative creates a fabricated plotline which sits somewhere in-between heist movie and gangland thriller. With it's non-linear narrative and constantly evolving story arc Kelly at least ensures that our interest never falls away from the action, and he has a knack of exposing crucial plot information at just the right time to make the intricate goings on neither overly predictable not impenetrably convoluted. Likewise Kelly's dialogue on the whole is a step above what we can normally expect from such mainstream fare. There's little in the way of nauseatingly witty one-liners or cloying sentimentality, and the lack of such banalities betrays a level of intelligence and astuteness that really pays off here. Of course it's not all plain sailing; the media circs sub-plots involving Jerry Springer and the reality TV show are unnecessary and unnatural in the tone of the film (even if there is an outing here for the ever-wonderful Christopher Walken), and Tom Waits' cameo as a preacher out in the desert is mystical mumbo-jumbo better reserved for a Native American in The Doors. To its credit, the film has assembled a wonderfully rich and varied cast, which has a strength in depth rarely seen outside a something like a Robert Altman film. Knightely's star continues to rise with a solid performance, and it's encouraging to see Mickey Rouke's comeback continue apace with a great turn here. Delroy Lindo, crime cinemas stock character actor turns in another consistent appearance here, as do Lucy Liu, Jacqueline Bisset and Dabney Coleman in minor roles. Alas the movie's concept and execution somewhat stifles any hope of it becoming anymore than merely efficient. To quote the film “heads you win, tails you die”. Whilst there are good turns here and an entertaining enough conception, Domino is certainly not free of some quite grievous flaws in its two hour run time that certainly counterbalance the high-quality with the dross. It's impossible to discuss the film at any length without broaching the subject of its director, Tony Scott. This is presumably the way Scott would like it, as he infuses so much of himself all over this film that it is a movie which comes across as being concerned more with Tony Scott than it ever is with Domino Harvey. Scott cut his teeth back in the eighties when the 'high concept' film first strode into its pomp at the box-office, helming such vacuous high testosterone fun as Top Gun and Days of Thunder. The 'more-is-less, much more-is-more' philosophy that governed the era has not been lost on Scott, who doggedly continues to churn out bloated overly-stylised nonsense from the comfort of his director's chair. If the filmmakers consider it's feasible to take liberties with the truth in order to construct a full-blooded action movie as opposed to a serious biopic then that's fair enough. But do they have to film it like a two hour long Pepsi commercial? Obviously Scott's directorial style is so extreme it's very much a love-it or hate-it situation. No doubt if you were taken in by the tired and ugly visuals of his previous movie Man on Fire, then the chances are you won't be offended by this. I on the other hand, firmly believe that the mark of a good director is somebody who treats the material with respect and does whatever is necessary to allow the story to breathe. Countless masters of the format have consistently proven it is possible to create a distinct and individual aesthetic without crudely imposing yourself over every last inch of film (Scorsese, Hitchcock, Argento to name but a few). Scott's self inflated descent into over-indulgent posturing is the cinematic equivalent of having a large custard pie of outdated motifs slapped straight in your face. What we are left with here is a mismatch of garish saturated colours, rapid fire MTV editing, aggressive repetition of dialogue, heavy handed religious symbolism, the works. You name it, it's here and it's overexposed, engulfing the plot and characters like a foamingly rabid rock promo with a case of attention deficit disorder. It defies the concept of the human imagination as to where Scott will go from here. The only logical step one would presume would be to incorporate a logo onscreen for the entire running time that reads “Hey! I'm Tony Scott! Look at me!” One thing's for sure, whatever he was putting in his coffee when he was shooting this, I wouldn't mind some of it. If Scott ever decides to append a level of subtlety as a further string to his bow, he may very well construct a more fully rounded and ultimately more satisfying film, the kind his brother specialises in. What frustrates is that there is certainly no doubting his skill behind the camera, and he has shown in the past (True Romance, The Hunger) an ability to contrast high style within the context of a fully-developed film to great success. As it stands here though, his testosterone fuelled showboating certainly adds zest and verve to the film's action sequences, but rings disappointingly hollow in the movies more reflective stretches, where a bit of versatility and restraint wouldn't go amiss. Of course, any verdict on Scott's directorial worthiness is always going to be somewhat subjective. If you posses the countenance to sit through his tireless artistic posturing without giving a sigh of exasperation and reaching for the Nurofen, then chances are you may find much to entertain here. It's when we start to analyse the film less as a straightforward action flick, and more as a representation of Domino Harvey that things slip further away. Presumably, through its extraneous sub-plots and schizophrenic style, the film is an attempt to mediate on the notions of the media circus and the nature of celebrity. Unfortunately for Domino, this was a concept taken and ran with a decade ago by Oliver Stone, whose Natural Born Killers was more extreme, effective, and far more inventive in its use of distinctive visual style. There's something morally dubious about essentially buying a person's identity and image, and then moulding it into just another character on a page. Although Knightley is perfectly fine here, the notion of her as in many ways a moral centre, a heroine of her age just doesn't ring true. Likewise the very notion of her performing a lap dance to a hip-hop beat to extort information in a shootout perhaps wasn't the wisest plot device, and is somewhat symptomatic of the problems of the movie in general. What we have here is very much a mixed bag. It's enjoyable enough to prevent it from being a bad movie per-se, but there is so much going wrong here that it's difficult to hold it up as a particularly striking example of its genre. The idea of dressing up a potentially intriguing story as a rudimentary action flick certainly wasn't the idea of the century, but in fairness it fulfils that modest ambition easily enough. Scott still directs a cracking action scene, even if his notions of style really are to the point of being headache inducing. In conclusion, perhaps the most fitting to sum up Domino, would be some misguided ideas slapped together and done very professionally.