October 14th, 2005
With “Domino,” director Tony Scott has entered a phantom zone where chaotic, artistically bankrupt visual style is somehow supposed to carry an entire film. A psychotically photographed eyesore/headache combo, “Domino” would be a lot easier to swallow had writer Richard Kelly provided something of substance to balance out all the garbage. Instead, these two proudly create one of the worst films of 2005.
After sitting through Tony Scott’s last round of atrocious masturbatory cinema, the Denzel Washington revenge opera “Man on Fire,” I figured there would be no artistic surprises found in his latest visual slapfight, “Domino.” I mean, seriously, how could the filmmaker top one of the most visually obnoxious movies of the last decade? Well, never let it be said that Scott backs down from a challenge.
“Domino” initially presents itself as a slack biopic of former runway-model-turned-100-pound-bounty-hunter Domino Harvey (Keira Knightley), daughter of actor Laurence Harvey, and all around embittered tough nut. The film makes no bones about its less-than-perfect accuracy, but the opening act still follows familiar formulas found in standard biographical dramatizations. However, it seems writer Richard Kelly (“Donnie Darko”) and director Scott are arranging these pawns in Domino’s life early in the film for reasons known only to them. From beginning to end, “Domino” is beyond comprehension. The film is Scott’s latest attempt to see how far he can stretch his dated, insufferable visual style, and he’s finally found the breaking point.
To accomplish this revolting pastiche of zooms, B-movie step-printing, methamphetamine-enhanced editing, and nonstop color saturation, Scott and Kelly have made Domino our narrator as she journeys from little girl lost to hardened criminal tracker. There was only one way for Scott to make sense of the disorganized ways Kelly’s script captures Domino’s rough relationships with her partners Choco (Edgar Ramirez) and Ed (Mickey Rourke), her inner conflict about the nature of loss, and finally her life as a reality television star (a seriously idiotic subplot): to have Domino high as a kite as she explains her story. Like a golden ticket to Wonka’s wonderland, this little plot device gives Scott free range to bathe his frame in an aggressive green tint, render every second of the film visually incomprehensible, and completely ignore his characters in the pursuit of a visual palette more suitable for torturing prison detainees than distracting a paying audience. I found “Man on Fire” reaching almost hilarious stylistic heights with Scott’s bizarre filmmaking choices (oh yes, the “flying” subtitles return here!). Now, “Fire” is like watching a BBC Jane Austin production compared to the gangbang of optical baloney Scott serves up here.
There’s a plot of sorts to “Domino;” something about money stolen from someplace that involves both the mafia and the F.B.I., dragging in some fringe criminals along the way, and ending up, guns drawn, in the Stratosphere, the tallest hotel in Las Vegas. “Domino” becomes winded trying to cram in ridiculous amounts of exposition every chance it gets, leaving the audience weary just trying to keep a good hold on characters that are never suitably introduced, ignoring the plot entirely. Instead of genuine cinematic writing, the film is mainly about Kelly using references (the thieves are modeled after the “Ex-Presidents” from “Point Break”), outright thefts (the climax is warmed over Tarantino and, well, Tony Scott too), and hipster retro stunt casting (Jerry Springer, Brian Austin Green, and Ian Ziering cameo). “Domino” is about the experience of watching an experience, not embracing even a wisp of storytelling essentials. And for all the smug posturing both Kelly and Scott do over the course of this rancid film, they start asking for audience sympathy in the film’s final act; as if they’ve earned the right to expect the viewer to give a damn about this one-dimensional Gap ad of a woman they’ve painstakingly built up as an action icon, but never once bothered to convey her beating heart.
I understand that “Domino” is a seminar on media satire and cultural lunacy, but did Kelly and Scott really think having Domino perform a lap dance to get out of a shootout was an interesting idea? That contrived religious imagery was a surefire way to probe into Domino’s questioning moral compass? Or that blowing up random objects for no decent reason was a dramatically appealing way to get themselves out of plot corners? Tony Scott used to simply enjoy his exaggerated shooting style, but now he positively loathes his audience. How else could a nightmare of sight and sound like “Domino” be explained? Tony Scott has lost his storytelling abilities, and now he wants to punish us all.
“Domino” is a sleazy trip through the barren wastelands of cinema overkill. Looking to explore a purposefully improbable and sadly wasted life (the real Domino Harvey died of a drug overdose this past summer), the filmmakers have instead rendered this pageant of nonsense inescapably tedious. Who was Domino Harvey? Too bad the story of her life would be the last place to look for answers.
My rating: F