2019, R, 89 mins.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Christian / Guy Pearce as Joe Martin / Carice van Houten as Alex / Truus de Boer as Photographer / Eriq Ebouaney / Younes Bachir as Miguel / Thomas W. Gabrielsson as Wold / Jacob Ulrik Lohmann as Cop
Directed by Brian De Palma / Written by Petter Skavlan
I fondly recall a time when seeing a Brain De Palma film reached event status levels for me.
stylish and acclaimed auteur made some of the most memorable films of the
1970s and 1980s in CARRIE, BLOW OUT, SCARFACE, and THE UNTOUCHABLES. This led to a bit of a career slowdown in the 90s, and for
every solid effort like CARLITO'S WAY and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE there were
colossal misfires like THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES, and his creative
output in the subsequent decades was sporadic and inconsistent at best.
For a filmmaker that was once considered a master of mood and
suspense, De Palma has unfortunately not crafted a truly memorable film
since the mid-1990s.
course, brings me to his latest thriller DOMINO (not to be confused with
the 2005 Tony Scott directed film of the same name),
which marks his first directorial effort since 2012's PASSION and
demonstrates - with varying degrees of success - the filmmaker showing
that he still has some juice left in the stylistic tank and, when given
the right opportunity, is capable of orchestrating individual moments of
hard hitting thrills that harkens back to his glory days.
In some respects, DOMINO displays many of the quintessential De
Palma flourishes of yesteryear that made his work so iconic, nearly to the
point where it could aptly be described as a fine return to form for him
(as a revenge thriller, this is pitch perfect material that plays right
into his wheelhouse). Regrettably,
stilted and problematic scripting kind of betrays De Palma's work behind
the camera here, not to mention some behind the scenes drama (more on that
in a bit), which is a shame. Messy plotting and a rushed overall
tone basically capsizes what's essentially a finely assembled and directed
film by De Palma.
did appreciate, though, the non-American settings for this piece, which
takes place in Copenhagen of the near future (2020) and introduces us to a
pair of long-time cop partners in Christian (GAME OF THRONES' Nikolaj
Coster-Waldau) and Lars (Soren Malling), who beyond enforcing the law are
the best of friends and confidants. One fateful and violent night changes both of their lives
forever when they're called to a seemingly random crime scene, which does
lead to the successful arrest of a blood soaked suspect in Erza (Eriq
Ebouaney). Tragically, the
criminal manages to free himself and, in the process, viciously slices Lars'
throat. Christian commits a
major police officer sin in forgetting his firearm at home that night,
which meant that apprehending the feeling suspect was next to impossible.
Feeling monumentally guilty about his friend and partner ending up
in the hospital and on death's door, Christian takes it upon himself to
at this stage DOMINO appears like any other number of obligatory crime
thrillers about cops seeking to avenge a fallen partner, but Petter
Skavlan's script does manage to throw a few curveballs at audiences when
it comes to Erza's plight on the run. We learn that he's a member of ISIS and is actually hunted
down and captured by a ruthlessly determined CIA agent, Martin (Guy
Pearce), who hopes to blackmail the terrorist into working for him to
capture a vile ISIS madman Al-Din (Mohammed Azaay), who's responsible for
assassinating Erza's father. Concurrent
to this is Christian teaming up with another Copenhagen office named Alex
(Carice van Houten), who wants to assist her grieving colleague in taking
down Erza for good, but with the CIA also yearning to nab Erza and turn
him into their own politically charged operative and weapon...things get
extremely complicated for all.
a conceptual and visual level, DOMINO should appease many lifelong fans of
De Palma's work, which displays the director's exquisite eye for editorial
timing, meticulous slow motion, and camera compositions to help drum up
undulating sensations of dread throughout.
De Palma seems attracted to the core themes of DOMINO, which have
been reflected in many of his past films, like the nature of voyeurism,
albeit with a terrorist twist, which comes front and center in one deeply
disturbing sequence showcasing Al-Din orchestrated a mass murder spree at
a film festival (one of his female disciples, completely radicalized,
follows his every command via radio as she maliciously slaughters people
on the red carpet, all while recording the events to be posted online
later). This sets up Al-Din
as a frightening psychopath capable of perpetrating human suffering on a
massive scale, which gives DOMINO a sense of forward momentum and a focal
point for all of the other characters to come together later in the story.
De Palma shows great joy and aesthetic panache in other sequences in the
film, like the aforementioned showdown early on featuring Christian and
Lars trying to apprehend Erza, which culminates on a dangerous rooftop
chase with Hitchockian vibes. This early moment is bookended superbly by the film's climax,
set in a massive bull fighting arena in Spain that could be ground zero
for a horrendous terrorist attack by Al-Din that's about as nail-bitingly
suspenseful and well oiled as just about any other third act that I've
seen in a film this year. Watching
bravura set pieces like this - replete with cat and mouse foot pursuits,
gunfire, fist fights and grapples, suicide bombers and drones - you gain
an immediate sense that De Palma is reveling in the terror inducing
spectacle of it all. And like
superb cinematic ringmasters, he's playing his audience like a violin, and
DOMINO, as a result, feels organically constructed from the inside out in
a refreshingly old school filmmaking mentality.
And it shows that De Palma most definitely has still got it.
DOMINO does not have, though, is a decent and cohesive narrative, and
sometimes the police procedural elements do not flow together well with
the terrorist and CIA subplots. For a film that's just 90 minutes, DOMINO feels too jam
packed and overstuffed for its own good, with enough endlessly compelling
material here to make for a long form TV miniseries.
There are simply too many characters, too many storytelling
detours, and not enough time running time available to explore every
avenue to its fullest and most satisfying effect.
The terrorist characters in particular seem the weakest developed
entities in the film, despite the fact the Erza is a potentially
enthralling character being manipulated on multiple sides (he becomes
motivated not only by radicalized pursuits, but also because of revenge -
much like Christian - to take down the murderer of a loved one).
Then there's the whole nature of how this film's terrorists use
streaming technology to record and then later broadcast the hellish
actions at that film festival. There's
something compulsively fascinating and chilling about the voyeuristic
impulses of these terrorists using technology and social media to spread
their hatred of others, but DOMINO hastily introduces and then kind of
discards it like an afterthought.
DOMINO's production woes might provide some answers as to its scattershot nature. It was shot in Denmark years ago and ran into a considerable amount of financing issues, which most likely led to the final product being slashed down to such a disagreeably short running time (there's been reports too that De Palma himself was not happy with the final product and is trying to distance himself from it). The potential greatness of DOMINO is most definitely hinted at throughout, and its story delving into the horrors of Islamic terrorism and how one man is nightmarishly torn between many parties on both sides beyond his will has so much promise on a storytelling front. But the unevenness and muddled nature of this erratically cobbled together film feels more like first cut material that desperately needed more finesse. If you love De Palma past work, especially as an inspired visualist, then watching DOMINO will provide some fleeting satisfaction. But as an essential, event worthy status picture from the legendary director, this one will mournfully be forgotten mere days after screening it for most of his most ardent diehards.