Domino (United States/France, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

I'm sure the story of bounty-hunter Domino Harvey would make for compelling cinema if only Tony Scott had decided to film it without the masturbatory excesses that are evident in Domino. Over-the-top doesn't begin to describe Scott's off-putting, intrusive style. Cutting with rapid-fire precision that would make a machine gun seem slow, Scott never allows his restless camera to stay with one shot or angle for more than about a second. Domino looks like it was hyped up on speed and acid. It's ADHD filmmaking. One can understand short action sequences being presented in this chaotic, staccato manner, but Domino goes on like this for 120 minutes. It's impossible to become involved in the movie. Fifteen minutes into the proceedings, I nearly screamed in frustration for things to stay still for a moment. I wanted to enjoy the story, but the style kept interfering.

Domino is loosely based on the true story of Domino Harvey (Kiera Knightley), the modern-day bounty hunter who recently died of a painkiller overdose. Harvey was best known for two things: being the daughter of actor Laurence Harvey (The Manchurian Candidate) and recounting tall tales of her escapades as a bounty hunter. How much of Domino is true remains unclear - even the movie has fun playing with boundaries between reality and exaggeration, including a voiceover line in which Domino informs us that it's none of our business what's real and what isn't. Ultimately, it doesn't matter.

Domino is a disaffected young woman when she joins the bounty hunting team of Ed (Mickey Roarke) and Choco (Edgar Ramirez). Her reason: "I want to have a little fun." She becomes an asset, and is soon an accepted member of the group, doing jobs for bail bondsman Claremont Williams (Delroy Lindo), bringing fugitives to justice. But Claremont has a scheme up his sleeve. It involves obtaining $300,000 by fraudulent means, and Domino and her partners end up in the middle of a mess that involves mobsters and a pissed-off billionaire. Things get messy and a lot of blood is spilled before it's all over.

Scott's need to put the viewer's attention on his directorial capabilities is evident at every turn. Aside from the quick cutting and hand-held shots, there are scenes in black-and-white, desaturated color, grainy video, slow-motion, time lapse, and probably a dozen other techniques that I forgot to jot down. The soundtrack includes bits of everything from old standards to rap, from Billy Ocean to 2LiveCrew. Scott mucks around with the chronology, uses a voiceover, and provides some unreliable narration. The film is a mess, to be sure, but at least it's an interesting mess. Shakespeare comes to mind again: "Sound and fury, signifying nothing."

The pop references pile on. Christopher Walken plays a reality TV producer who wants to film Domino's exploits (his version of Cops). This allows the filmmakers to provide social commentary. There's also an extended segment of The Jerry Springer Show, in which a character (played by Monique) expounds upon her theories about mixed races and how there should be new classifications like "Chinegro" and "Blacktina." And the screenplay takes some vicious (and deserved) jabs at the DMV.

Kiera Knightley comes through unscathed. She's very good as the tough-as-nails Domino. The character is dangerous, sexy, and amoral - it's a delicious mixture. And this part makes it impossible to question Knightley's amazing range. Here's a woman who can switch from a short-haired, vicious bounty-hunter to Elizabeth Bennett in the blink of an eye. Mickey Roarke, still on the comeback trail after Sin City, is solid as Ed, Domino's mentor. Ditto for Edgar Ramirez as Choco. Christopher Walken doesn't add much, although one could argue that his presence is a boon. Other recognizable big names, like Lucy Liu, Jacqueline Bisset, and Mena Suvari, are wasted.

Watching Domino is an exhausting experience, and that's not altogether welcome. It goes beyond kinetic into frenzied, and Scott's inability to rein in his excesses is going to frustrate a majority of viewers. It's almost impossible to "get into" the movie, since the style is distancing, and there are no moments of quiet or introspection. Yes, the film is interesting, but it doesn't work. Like any failed experiment, it's fascinating to examine, but hopes to achieve something meaningful are foiled.

Domino (United States/France, 2005)

Run Time: 2:00
U.S. Release Date: 2005-10-14
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1