Film Review: Domino

domino 2019 movie poster one sheetJamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) as a tough cop in Denmark? With Melisandre (Carice van Houten) as his partner? If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones this sounds like a great pairing and a really interesting setting for a cop thriller. And, to some extent, that’s just what Domino is, and while this direct to video release doesn’t stint on talent or production, the fundamental story is pretty darn weak. Don’t be confused by the 2005 film of the same name: They have nothing at all in common other than their names.

Domino is a cops versus criminals in the modern vein: the bad guys are Middle Eastern terrorists who are quick to praise Allah but slow with any explanation of what they’re doing. Coster-Waldau plays Christian, a cop who is out for justice after the murder of his long-time partner Lars (Soren Malling) by Ezra Tarzi (Eriq Ebouaney), a long-time ISIS member. Alex (van Houten) is assigned to work with him and they begin to investigate Tarzi, including known associates, location, and, well, you know the drill. Behind the scenes are the Central Intelligence Agency, as represented by Joe Martin (Guy Pearce). The CIA has its own motives and is tracking Imran to find and interrogate terrorist leader Salah al Din (Mohammed Azaay).

This genre is propelled by action sequences, and director Brian De Palma offers up some exciting set pieces, first with the attack that results in Lars’ death and a 007-worthy rooftop chase, then a gripping sequence at Spanish bullfight. The film itself is typical De Palma too, self-conscious of its medium even as it’s slyly self-referential. For example, a video posted by the terrorists is analyzed by the police for its use of camera angles and sophisticated cinematography techniques. Later, one of the terrorists attacks a film festival in a sequence told through video sequences watched on various computer laptops, a film-within-a-film.

Eriq Ebouaney has so much presence on camera that I also really wished for more of his story, more about Ezra Tarzi, his family, and how he ended up stuck in the middle between the Danish police, the CIA and ISIS. He’s an actor to watch, for sure, and has already had great success in Three Days to Kill, Kingdom of Heaven and Hitman.

Still, there’s a lot wrong with this story, not the least of which is that Christian is a miserable cop, so busy saying goodbye to his female friend that he forgets his gun as he heads out on patrol. He’s later suspended from the police force for such negligence, but that entire sequence – and its consequences in the subsequent story – are quickly subsumed and never appear again in the narrative. There are also long periods when Christian and Alex are driving or tailing the terrorists where there’s a weird absence of dialog. Moody? Yes, but in the “are we there yet?” sense.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Carice van Houten from "Domino"
Christian (Coster-Waldau and Alex (van Houten) from “Domino”

What’s more frustrating is the lazy and somewhat insulting tendency of De Palma to zoom in on something to clue us in that it’s important to the story. This doesn’t just happen once (gun on table, pan over to naked woman, pull back to Christian walking out the door, zoom back in on gun still on table) but recurs throughout the film. Entirely suitable for manga, it’s a pet peeve of mine in cinema. Let us figure it out, don’t break the narrative with these foreshadowing close-ups or oh-so-obvious placements on camera.

There are a lot of pretty awful movies out there, however, so in the end I would assess Domino as a B grade film. If you like actioners, if you’re a big fan of Coster-Waldau (I am!) and van Houten (I am!), if you are a Brian De Palma completist, or you’re just looking to burn a few hours, Domino is mostly well assembled and muchly fun to watch. I’m just hoping for the director’s cut that chops out some of the banal elements and smooths the many narrative hiccups and cuts to weave the main story with the many secondary narrative elements. Now that would be a really good cop film.

Parental note This is rated R and it’s somewhat violent and has some bad language, but for this genre, it’s pretty mild, and nothing you wouldn’t see on a cable TV thriller nowadays. Not for tweens, but most modern teens would be fine with this and it could spawn a healthy conversation about typecasting and national identities in cinema too.

5 comments on “Film Review: Domino

  1. You need to take another look– “gun on table, cut to naked woman, cut to Christian walking out the door, cut and linger on gun still on table” — there are zero cuts in that entire scene…!

    • If there aren’t any actual cuts, the rhythm of that shot is still completely consistent with what I said and the point I’m making, Geoff.

      • I have to disagree, still, Dave. It’s a simple but clever shot, well-conceived, far from lazy, and the rhythm of it is musical and beautiful. From an above angle, the camera lens pushes in so slowly it takes a few seconds before we even realize it’s happening. The table in question is always smack dab in the center, and it’s the actors who make everything else happen– the bra being lifted from the gun, the woman jumping from the bed and running toward Christian, her naked body briefly catching in the light from the window, his gun dropping back onto the table as she pulls him back into bed and wraps her legs around him. The insistent buzzing from outside as Lars is trying to get Christian’s attention. Finally, he says, he has to go, but the camera does not leave with him. Donaggio’s sinuous music strikes a note of inevitability.

    • Obviously we’ll have to agree to disagree here, Will and Geoff. That’s okay, I know Goeff is a huge De Palma fan (he runs a fan Web site) so his perspective is going to be different. Me? I just like films that make me work for the connection between items and storyline rather than dwelling on something as a cheap foreshadowing that it’ll be important later in the story.

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