DOMINO Review: For De Palma Completists Only
It feels borderline unfair to review a film like Domino, which suffered from production issues notorious enough for its director, Brian De Palma, to distance himself from the project long before its release. Rumor has it, his cut of the film runs 148 minutes while the version described below barely breaks 80 before padding time with an extra slow credit sequence. There’s basically no hope for the film to be anything other than extremely flawed.
And that’s exactly what Domino is. The film tells a thriller skeleton of a story about a Danish cop, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who - along with fellow Game of Thrones co-star Carice van Houten - goes after the ISIS member who killed his partner (and her lover). Complicating things, a shady CIA operative played by Guy Pierce is actively using said ISIS member to hunt down even more terrorists. These two plots play out largely separated from each other, only really coming together in the film’s final moments.
De Palma movies are typically exciting because of the way they eschew reality in favor of pure cinematic pulp. Performances are affected, the world is heightened, a certain cheesiness permeates but it’s in service of a master’s point of view. This, combined with a severe edit De Palma assumedly was not involved with, makes for strange bedfellows. One can possibly see a better film bleeding into this one, but perhaps not that much better. No cut is going to fix the normally solid Waldau’s acting choices, for instance, particularly his bizarre accent. Van Houten, however, might have been doing good work that gets betrayed in this particular cut. Her character is confusing and lacks context, making some of her reactions seem unearned and strange. Perhaps in a different edit they make more sense.
Really only two types of people are going to watch Domino: De Palma fans and folks who have no idea what it is but see the Game of Thrones guy and give it a shot. For the latter crowd, the film is going to play just as generic as it looks. There are nice little bits here and there for those who absolutely cannot pass up a new De Palma film, even one he’s more or less turned his back on.
The biggest De Palma tell is a delightfully anachronistic score from Pino Donaggio which plays pretty much throughout the entire film. The music appears placed over the imagery arbitrarily with almost no relationship to what we’re seeing, which while artless in theory, honesty adds a WTF edge that at least lends a little excitement to what are otherwise lifeless scenes. If nothing else, it’s the biggest indicator that you’re watching a Brian De Palma film.
Otherwise, a few sequences also standout. Without going into spoilers, there is a mass shooting scene in which the shooter has a camera both on her face and behind her weapon (like in a first-person shooter), adding a neat 21st century spin on De Palma’s usage of split screen. The third act centers on a set piece that sets up all the elements of a classic De Palma tour de force, but never gets off the ground. It’s a shame, but the fact that it comes close at all is far more than I expected from Domino.
Ultimately, this is exactly what it says on the box - a flawed, more or less incomplete entry from an aging master. There is no secret redemption to be found here, and I doubt a longer version would help much as issues plagued Domino during production, surely affecting what could have been at an earlier stage than any editing could fix. But if you can’t let a new De Palma go, no one’s going to be able to talk you out of your curiosity. Even Brian De Palma himself.