Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Movie Review: Domino

Domino ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Brian De Palma.
Written by: Petter Skavlan.
Starring: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Christian), Carice van Houten (Alex), Guy Pearce (Joe Martin), Søren Malling (Lars Hansen), Eriq Ebouaney (Ezra Tarzi), Paprika Steen (Hanne Toft), Thomas W. Gabrielsson (Wold), Ardalan Esmaili (Omar), Younes Bachir (Miguel), Helena Kaittani (Stine), Sachli Gholamalizad (Fatima), Hamid Krim (Mustafa), Mohammed Azaay (Salah Al Din), Ilias Addab (Yusuf Hares).
Brian De Palma is nearly 80 years old, and nothing would make me happier to see him do what Paul Schrader did last year with First Reformed – and make a late masterpiece, especially since it’s been seven years since his last film, Passion, and over 15 since his last masterwork – Femme Fatale. Unfortunately, Domino is not that film. There are a few brilliant set pieces in the film, and it certainly fits in with De Palma’s obsessions with how we all are watching each other all the time. But its wrapped inside a story that isn’t very interesting, with characters who are paper thin. The film had a troubled production, and was essentially taken away from De Palma and edited without him. There is enough De Palma here to know who made this film, and enough here to make you think that even had he edited it himself, that the end result wouldn’t be a whole lot better.
The film takes place mostly in Denmark, and stars Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Copenhagen police detective Christian. While responding to a routine domestic disturbance in an apartment building with his partner, and best friend, Lars (Søren Malling), they run into a man on the elevator, whose shoes are covered in blood. They are able to stop him – and get the cuffs on him – but then Christian goes to the apartment to see what happened. Coming across a corpse of a man who has clearly been tortured – he realizes this isn’t such a routine call after all – and races back to tell Lars – but too late to stop the suspect, Ezra Tarzi (Eriq Ebouaney) from slashes Lars’ throat – and escaping running across the roof of the apartment building.
What follows is the best set piece in the film – a race across the roofs, that is clearly designed to bring Vertigo to mind, even directing referencing (or stealing, if you prefer) some of the master’s famous shots from the opening sequence in that film, but with a distinctive De Palma flair. It is such a great sequence, that you start to wonder if the dull opening scenes may not be what the rest of the film will be like.
Unfortunately, though, they are. What follows is a thriller that sees Christian team up with Alex (Carice van Hoiten) – another cop to try and track down Tarzi. They don’t know though that Tarzi has already been captured – by the CIA (led by Guy Pearce), who want to use him to track down an ISIS leader, who Tarzi is after for personal reasons anyway. To say that the films view of both the CIA and ISIS is over simplistic would be an understatement. They are both basically portrayed as evil – Pearce’s Joe Martin is an unfeeling monster, really, who doesn’t care about anything other than getting ISIS members, not matter the cost. The ISIS leader – Salah Al Din (Mohammed Azaay) is a one dimensional monster, who brainwashes people to do their bidding. There is a side plot about a woman going to a film festival red carpet to both commit a mass shooting, and then a suicide bombing – which is filmed, to be posted to the internet. It’s almost as if the person we are led to believe in the opening scene is the bad guy – Tarzi – is a victim caught between the two greater, evil forces – even if for Christian and Alex, he’s the only thing they are focused on.
That could have led to some interesting points being made about the nature of terrorism, and counter-terrorism efforts, and how everyone is just a pawn to be used by either side. And yet as presented here, everything is just one note, and simplistic. They are all stereotypes – and not very interesting ones at that.
The film does end with another great set piece – one that may call to mind De Palma’s best film (Blow Out) – shot under blue lights, as Christian and Alex have to try and foil another suicide bombing. Again, the characters in that sequence are paper thin – but the actual staging by De Palma is stunning, and the type of thing only De Palma could do.
So, in short, Domino is not a late career masterpiece from De Palma. Ever since Femme Fatale, I’ve gone into each De Palma film hoping to find another great film. Other than Redacted (2007) – his Iraq war film, which for my money is the worst film De Palma has ever made. Like both The Black Dahlia and Passion, there is brilliant moments in Domino – moments that no one else could do. But they are at the service of a plot and narrative and characters not worthy of it. Domino is worse than normal – but the pattern still holds. Yet, even though he’s nearly 80, he still has multiple films in various stages of pre-production, so I can still hope for at least one more De Palma masterpiece.

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