- Directed by: Brian De Palma
- Written by: Petter Skavlan
- Starring: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Carice van Houten and Guy Pearce
- Classification: R; 89 minutes
- 1.5 stars
About halfway through the new political thriller Domino, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s hero pauses to marvel at the cinematic sophistication of an ISIS recruitment video. “It’s almost like they’re professionals,” his Copenhagen detective character exclaims, whilst watching one jihadist behead an infidel. “There’s even a drone shot!” Perhaps this is a tongue-in-cheek moment courtesy of director Brian De Palma, who you better believe slips in a handful of drone shots toward the end of his latest film. Or maybe it’s an accidental commentary on the relative professionalism of actual terrorists versus whatever aesthetic terrorist ended up editing Domino to shreds and shards that make no real sense. I’m going to decide that it’s impossible to tell either way, because Domino is an impossible film itself.
More or less disowned by its director (“The film is finished and ready to go out, but I have no idea what its future will hold, it is currently in the hands of the producers,” he told French press last year), Domino could either be a bad Brian De Palma film or not really a Brian De Palma film at all. It certainly has the Femme Fatale and Body Double director’s appreciated tics, including copious split dioptre shots, long-distance zooms, and a drawn-out set-piece that stretches out a moment’s tension to such extremes that you feel every single ticking second. On the flip side, the film also trades on De Palma’s more regrettable impulses, including nonsensical plotting and a penchant for violence that feels both visceral and cartoonish. But then there is the overwhelming sense that Domino was not directed by any one person at all, but rather spliced and diced by committee into something barely watchable.
Running at just 89 minutes but stilted and gangly enough to feel twice that long, Domino never feels like an actual film. There are characters who seem alien to their world and one another – Coster-Waldau and Carice van Houten’s reluctantly paired-up cops don’t seem to be familiar with basic human interaction, let alone the ins and outs of policing – and there is a central global-terrorism mystery that is incomprehensible yet boring at the same time. The dialogue is awkward (complete with what sounds like poorly mixed re-recorded audio), the pacing is all off, and the entire project reeks of take-the-money-and-run hucksterism. If we’re going to call this a Brian De Palma film, it is easily the director’s worst – even if, behind the scenes, that’s not necessarily the case.
Still, for anyone with a medium-level interest in one of American cinema’s more extreme visionaries, Domino is essential viewing. In addition to a climactic, slow-burn suicide-bombing scene (taking place at a bullfighting ring that’s conspicuously bereft of extras), there is a fascinatingly ugly moment where De Palma (or, again, whoever) sets up a mass shooting at an Amsterdam film festival via split screen – a bad joke that’s still worth a chuckle or two. And the entire endeavour is almost worth it for the moment when Guy Pearce, playing a CIA cowboy, says the entirely dumb line, “We’re Americans! We read your e-mails!” toward the end, essentially dismantling screenwriter Petter Skavlan’s entirely dumb plot. Oh, and there are those drone shots, too. ISIS would be proud.
Domino is available digitally starting June 4.
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