By Kenny Hedges
The opening minutes of Brian De Palma’s Domino consist of cop Nicolaj Coster-Waldau and partner Lars (Søren Mallin) muttering and squabbling over the cleanliness of their car in soft mutters like an old married couple. It’s a nice touch, expressing a lived-in partnership that has become so familiar, they just lovingly irritate each other. It’s very nearly out of an Altman film, until you realize that their unfocused mutterings and overlapping dialogue is actually more indicative of a film that can’t quite grasp its own material.
After Lars is murdered by a terrorist Ezra Tarzi (Eriq Ebouaney) during a standard domestic call, Coster-Waldau is dead set on bringing him to justice. His investigation, however, is continually hampered by Guy Pearce’s CIA agent, who sees the value in using Tarzi as a source to hunt down other ISIS fighters. Matters get complicated, affairs and secrets are unveiled, all in the most rote way imaginable.
There were rumblings behind-the-scenes conflict from the moment cameras began rolling, with extensive cuts to the plot and rewrites occurring. It got so bad that De Palma, when finished, vowed to never work in Denmark again. And his weariness, perhaps due to working on a project that feels very much like a hatchet job, is evident from the first frame. He doesn’t care, so why should we?
It feels less like a finished film and more like a rushed homework assignment.
When one watches a De Palma film, there are certain aspects guaranteed, despite the overall quality of the picture. You’re at least going to be treated to some visually dazzling setpieces and resoundingly creepy and appropriate themes of voyuerism. Even his lesser works manage to be technically clever. Most of his trademarks are in place, and when they do make an appearance, they’re easily the best sequences of the film. But they all feel uncharateristically unearned. A fight scene with Coster-Waldau and some street dealers has De Palma at a distance, sitting back to just let it unfold rather than participate.
He’s even guilty of repeating himself. He unwisely revisits one of his more famous recent setpieces during a shootout at a film festival (like the opening heist in Femme Fatale), with diminishing returns.
If anyone is having fun, it’s Pearce, shedding his Aussie accent for a weird Mathew McConnaughey impression. The rest of the cast fares worse, with Coster-Waldau being particularly wooden.
It’s not that De Palma is out of his element, here. He’s essentially covering territory he so masterfully orchestrated with the globe-trotting Mission: Impossible and the clandestine Snake Eyes, albeit with a technological upgrade. Which makes it all the more insulting to his legacy that Domino is as inept as it is. Modern technology doesn’t seem to interest the filmmaker; give him a pair of binoculars, a bomb and a few pistols and he’s right at home. He also adds nothing to the conversation on the war on terror – a topic he once tackled, somewhat sloppily, with Redacted. In fact, Domino negates any poignancy that film may have had by casually showing a brutal decapitation like it ain’t no thing.
It may not be De Palma’s worst effort, but it’s close, and you can’t help but not place the fault entirely at his feet. Given the behind-the-scenes drama, it’s a wonder there’s a coherent film here at all.
It’s just a very flat one.