My notes on Brian DePalma’s Domino- out in the US May 31.
During the first act of Domino, Copenhagen cop Christian Toft (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has made a simple but huge error – not taking his gun with him on a routine domestic disturbance call-out – that has got his partner Lars (Soren Malling) stabbed, and has to pursue Ezra Tarzi (Eriq Ebouaney), a suspect who had fled out of a window. While hanging from a gutter a la Jimmy Stewart in the prologue to Vertigo, he’s accompanied by a lush orchestral Pino Donaggio score and this seemingly typical Scandi-noir thriller is revealed as the work of its currently itinerant 79-year old movie brat Brian DePalma. Later, it features a found footage terrorism sequence that combines approaches from Redacted (DePalma’s most interesting 21st century work) and Femme Fatale (his flat-out craziest and most fun) as a brainwashed Muslim woman livestreams a gun attack and suicide bombing on the red carpet of a swanky European film festival, murdering celebs and media while taking instructions over a headset from Jihadi Salah al-Din (Mohammed Azaay).
Scripted by Petter Skavlan (Kon-Tiki), this is typifies the sort of international co-production (Denmark, France, Italy, Belgium, Holland) that used to get labelled a Europudding by decamping from Denmark to Spain at mid-point, in pursuit of a sinister sheikh who has plans to pull off a terrorist ‘spectacular’ at a bullring. The 89-minute running time and a title that didn’t really have to be lifted from an old Tony Scott film are ill-omens, not to mention circumstances like announced actors (Christina Hendricks) and IMDb-credited folk (Nicholas Bro) not being in the film – plus DePalma going on record in describing the film as underfunded and a nightmare to make. It has the feel of something not quite finished – which, to be fair, some earlier DePalma films (Snake Eyes, especially) share – and there are some character and plot threads which really don’t gel. The story engine is that Ezra is on a vengeance crusade against al-Din, who decapitated his father (in a DePalma touch, the cop admires the cinematic quality of the beheading video), and is sanctioned by the CIA (repped by weaselly Guy Pearce) … while Toft and cop Alex Boe (Carice van Houten) go off the books to pursue Ezra to get their own revenge for what happened to Lars. The revelation that the happily-married Lars was having an affair with Alex ought to have more resonance than it does – and the depiction of terrorism and counter-terrorism see-saws between the most rote of war on terror cliches and plague-on-all-your-houses cynicism.
Given that the finale is set at a bull-fight, it’s perhaps welcome that DePalma holds back on the violence outside of terrortube clips – but this set-piece, which depends on a particularly half-baked bit of plotting (a drinks vendor who aggressively refuses to sell anything), does let DePalma stage one of the big, crowded suspense scenes in public spaces that he’s always been drawn to (cf: Blow Out, The Fury, Phantom of the Paradise, The Untouchables) … with cool overhead drone shots (the drone is even part of the plot) and action seen at a distance as characters struggle to carry out or thwart evil plots. But, like the rest of the film, the viewpoint is perhaps too far removed from what’s going on for the drama to grip.
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