Preceded by a less than flattering reputation, and plagued by financial problems relayed by the director himself, Brian De Palma’s latest film, Domino, gets a miraculous, and surprisingly early, release in the UK, on DVD and blu-ray. Chances are that if you are a long-time fan of the director, the film, despite its reputation, features already quite high on your watch list and nothing written here will hinder the enthusiasm of still being able to watch films from one of the most influential directors of all time. If you’re not a De Palma aficionado, don’t bother really. This is clearly not one of the director’s best efforts and it will, at best, provoke polite indifference or, worst, lead to more unfair 1 star reviews posted online about the film. After all, the main interest of Domino is that it is undoubtedly a De Palma film.
The plot itself is rather conventional; in a world wracked by terror and suspicion, police-officer Christian (Nikolaj Coster- Waldau, Game of Thrones) seeks justice for his partner's murder by a mysterious man (Eriq Ebouaney, Femme Fatale). On the hunt for the killer, Christian and a fellow cop (Carice van Houten, Black Book) become caught in a dangerous game of cat and mouse with a duplicitous CIA agent (Guy Pearce, L.A. Confidential), using the mysterious killer as a pawn to trap terrorists.
Written by Norwegian Kon-Tiki writer Petter Skavlan, Domino’ screenplay is rather formulaic, simply mixing elements of revenge and terrorism with European locations. What actually differentiates it from the mass of similarly themed thrillers is, as in most of his filmography, De Palma’s mastery making key scenes really memorable. In this sense, the early post-coital scene represents a striking example of De Palma’s masterful sense of mise-en-scene, only resorting to a perfectly timed zoom to focus on a crucial element for the rest of the film.
The real disappointment with Domino is that there are some genuinely memorable moments of cinema in the film (you’ll surely remember the visually striking rooftop chase and the climax long after the end of the film, one of the great qualities of De Palma’s cinema being the indelible imprint these pivotal moments of cinema can make on the audience) but they all feel restrained and somewhat lacking the adequate breath necessary to make them definitive, and this even despite Pino Donaggio’s ever efficient, if not totally memorable, score (De Palma’s pursues with Domino his memorable long-time collaboration with the Don’t Look Now composer, which was recently rekindled by their previous film together, the criminally underrated Passion).
Even worst, what could have been defining scenes in the most recent part of De Palma’s career end up falling completely flat due to a troubled production hindered by budget issues. Whereas these issues are annoyingly obvious during anecdotic moments such as the car interior scenes which display a variety of backgrounds each faker than the other, they become particularly detrimental to pivotal scenes such as a terrorist attack looking frustratingly amateurish. It’s a shame taking into account the inherently powerful concept carried by this scene, and how adequately it would have been integrated into De Palma’s array of voyeuristic obsessions.
What also hints at production issues, in addition to the director’s declarations and the presence of 17 listed producers, is the absence of any real elaborated set-piece (including the frustratingly restrained, yet rather satisfying, climax) something that greatly contributed to De Palma’s reputation, and the very short duration of the film, only clocking at 83 minutes without credits. Even if the film is not believed to have a 'longer' version and De Palma went on record to say that the film was “not recut”, the director also mentioned that he “was not involved in the ADR [Automated Dialog Replacement], the musical recording sessions, the final mix or the colour timing of the final print”. Nothing particularly reassuring…
The director was not help in its tasks by a particularly memorable cast either. Outside of Eriq Ebouaney’s inhabited performance (already memorable in another under-appreciated De Palma film, Femme Fatale) drawing a link with De Palma’s earlier collaborations with regular character actor such as Denis Franz (Blow Out) or Gregg Henry (Femme Fatale) in supporting roles, Nokilaj Coster-Waldau makes for a very bland lead and the usually great Carice Van Houtten and Guy Pearce are not given a lot to do with, with their rather insipid characters (even if the former still manages to display her acting talents in a couple of key emotional scenes).
Therefore, if there’s one point on which both fans and non-fans of the director will most likely agree, it’s the fact that Domino is a disappointment (a very frustrating one for the former), and one can only dream of what the director of such masterpieces as The Untouchables or Carlito’s Way could have accomplished with such a subject if he had been given the means he rightfully deserves. At a time when the debate is still raging between ‘real cinema’ and Netflix, Domino actually brings an cruel perspective on the future of renowned ‘old masters’ and it is interesting to put in parallel, all kept proportions, the fate of this film and the royal treatment given to De Palma’s long-time friend Martin Scorsese’s new film, The Irishman…
Domino is released in the UK on August 5th on DVD and blu-ray.
The film is presented in a solid 1080p transfer respecting its 1.85:1 original aspect ratio. Overall, the quality of the image is good and displays sharp details and adequate contrast.
On the sound side, the blu-ray disc features efficient 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 stereo LPCM English audio tracks with no discernible defects.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the disc doesn’t offer any subtitles or extras.