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 V.14 No.41 | October 13 - 19, 2005 

Film Review

Domino

Nonsensical bounty hunter biopic mixes fantasy with ... more fantasy

Keira Knightly models the latest mercenary fashion line from J Crew.
Keira Knightly models the latest mercenary fashion line from J Crew.

Domino

Directed by Tony Scott

Cast: Keira Knightly, Mickey Rourke, Lucy Liu

“This film is based on a true story,” informs Domino's pre-credit crawl. “... Sort of.” To which I would add, “... Very sort of.”

Domino Harvey was, by all available evidence, the wild and iconoclastic daughter of British actor Lawrence Harvey (The Manchurian Candidate). In her abbreviated lifetime, she was a socialite, a Ford model, a DJ, a heroin addict, a firefighter, a lesbian and a bounty hunter. She topped all of that off by dying at age 35 in her bathtub, most likely of a drug overdose. Very little of that history makes its way into Domino, a glossy Hollywood action flick that excitedly gloms onto Domino's gender and career as a bounty hunter, but little else.

All in all, it was another awkward date courtesy of match.com
All in all, it was another awkward date courtesy of match.com

The film is directed in a hyperactive fit of style by Brit Tony Scott. Tony Scott (Top Gun, Days of Thunder, Enemy of the State) has always displayed a lower level of talent than his older brother Sir Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator) and has attempted to cover the gap by trowelling it full of meaningless flash and dazzle. Never has Scott managed such a maniacal job of flashing and dazzling as he does in Domino.

The film's disjointed script, by Donnie Darko creator Richard Kelly, leaps around in time and place, giving us flashbacks on top of flashbacks and relating (as far as I can gather) the story of Domino's involvement in some sort of armored car heist. Domino is played here by Pirates of the Caribbean cutie Keira Knightly. As the film opens, she's bloody and handcuffed, hanging out in an overlit police interrogation room being quizzed by sexy Lucy Liu about how practically everybody in the cast list wound up dead somewhere in the Nevada desert. The film attempts, in fits and starts, to map out how Domino came into such a predicament.

I would discuss more of the plot, but I have no clue what was happening from start to finish.

The heist that drives the script is so tortured in its convolution that it makes the plot of Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle look like the work of Truman Capote. Knightly narrates the film, but does so in a distorted, overmodulated voice that makes her sound like she's recording a bad techno remix album. “Beverly Hills 90210” stars Brian Austin Green and Ian Ziering play themselves playing reality TV show hosts. (Why? No idea.) One whole segment is spent with a minor character appearing on “The Jerry Springer Show” to discuss ethnicity. (Relevance? None.) By the time Tom Waits stumbles through as some sort of angelic, possibly drug-induced drifter, all hope of logic has long since fled the theater.

Scott gives us slo-mo shots, fast-forward images, Blair Witch camera work, spastic jump-cut editing and a toxic color palette that hovers somewhere between The Wizard of Oz and Se7en. It's as if Guy Ritchie threw up all over “Headbanger's Ball.” I take it as a bad, bad sign when a film features an entire sequence in which all the characters are wacked-out on mescaline--and it looks no different than the preceding scenes. Toward the end, Scott is reduced to using onscreen flowcharts to try and explain what the hell is happening. It doesn't help.

Domino is easily the least sensible, most self-indulgent triumph of style over substance since Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers. Domino Harvey was, undoubtedly, a fascinating woman (even more so in the wake of her mysterious death). I wonder what made her tick. I wonder what made her do the things she did. But Domino is not the film to provide me with any answers. Trust me, folks, when the promise of seeing Keira Knightly naked isn't enough to recommend a movie, you know something has gone seriously wrong.


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