Watching Domino is a frustrating experience, and I don’t just mean because of its hyperkinetic editing and eye-searing colour palette. One gets the impression that there’s a good film in there somewhere, just itching to get it, but it’s buried inside a muddled script that lurches uneasily from plot point to plot point, filled with endless irrelevant cutaways and asides that leave you with the impression that you’re listening to a story being recounted by someone with the attention span of a goldfish.
What’s particularly irritating about this is that it’s neither a particularly awful film nor a concept that was doomed to begin with. On paper, it actually sounds quite fascinating. The late Domino Harvey (she died of a drugs overdose not long before the film was released) was a real-life bounty hunter operating out of Los Angeles, the daughter of actor Laurence Harvey and a pampered rich girl and glamour model who somehow found herself making a living rubbing shoulders with and apprehending some of the most dangerous men in America. Director Tony Scott was apparently so taken by this woman and her story that, during the 1990s, he met with Harvey to personally secure the film rights to her life.
It’s strange, then, that for all his obvious enthusiasm for the real Domino, what we get is less a biopic and more a work of fiction loosely inspired by reality. “Based on a true story,” the on-screen text informs us... “sort of.” The heist which forms the backbone of the film’s plot was formulated entirely by writer Richard “Donnie Darko” Kelly, and, barring Domino herself, most of the main characters are either fabricated or only very loosely reminiscent of their real-life counterparts. What we’re ultimately left with is a superficially slick production that purports to be an exploration of a compelling individual which, in actual fact, tells us nothing about her. Scott and Kelly lay down the essentials in a sort of potted history of Domino’s pre-bounty hunting past – rich parents, sorority girl, college drop-out – but neglect to provide any insight into how this led to her being the person she is at the time the main action unfolds. Basically, all that’s on the page is that she’s ruthless, determined and, for some reason, really, really angry at the world. That’s it.
It’s actually rather impressive, then, that Keira Knightley somehow manages to pull it off. No, she doesn’t seem particularly suited to the role, and it’s hard to shake the impression that she was cast simply because she was, at the time, seen by Hollywood to be the Next Big Thing to come out of Britain, but there’s something commendably gung-ho about her performance that, at the very least, makes her interesting to watch. Given that she was at the time (and, arguably, still is) most commonly associated with the family-friendly Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and ever-so-respectable costume dramas, watching her taking on gangsters armed to the teeth and screaming every profanity under the sun at the top of her lungs is quite entertaining in its own right. True, the script gives us no real insight into the character, but it looks like she had some fun with the part.
Unfortunately, if Domino herself fares poorly in the character development department, the rest of the cast come off even worse. Most of them are walking, talking clichés who, like the script itself, seem to drift around aimlessly from one set-piece to the next, looking appropriately hard or crazy (everyone in this film is either hard, or crazy, or both) but never really seeming remotely plausible. A glance at the cast list, which includes both Christopher Walken and Jacqueline Bisset hamming it up impressively, should give some idea of the roster of talent involved, but there’s no sense of unity, just a bunch of thesps overacting their cardboard cut-out parts and trying to make themselves heard over a jumbled soundtrack of R&B, loud sound effects and choppily edited sound bites, all vying for attention. It’s fairly safe to say that, of the entire cast, Mickey Rourke makes the strongest impression as Domino’s grizzly accomplice Ed Moseby, and this is thanks only to the natural screen presence he brings to the part rather than because of any great flair in the writing.
Of course, ask Scott and Kelly and they’d probably tell you that this level of confusion was precisely the effect they were going for all along. Kelly specifically described his intention as being to create a “punk-rock fever dream, in a very nonlinear, Rashomon style”, and, on some level, I feel he may have succeeded. I can’t claim any sort of experience with hallucinogenics, and, if Domino is in any way an accurate representation of what it’s like to be under the influence, then I’m extremely grateful for my sheltered lifestyle. It’s like the heady rush films such as Requiem for a Dream have tried to capture, only there’s no euphoria, just the sickening sensation that you’re on a ride going too fast that you wish would stop. Of course, a more cynical reading would be that Scott has simply tried to disguise a clumsy, disjointed script by adopting the editing and visual style of the worst music videos. It’s a shame, because he’s a decent director, at least when served by competent script (Enemy of the State is, I think, my favourite of his films), and Domino does show flashes of what he’s capable of. As a whole, the film is far from boring (which is somewhat impressive, given that surprisingly little of real note actually happens in its two-hour-plus running time), but it’s ultimately interesting in much the same manner as a car crash: when you’re presented with a sight this ghastly, it’s impossible not to sit up and take notice.
Blu-ray Disc Presentation
Presented on a single layer BD25, the 1080P, VC-1 encode maintains the film’s original 2.39:1 aspect ratio. It’s sometimes tough to rate image quality with a film as stylised as this, particularly given the intentionally unnatural colours and contrast, the rarely-static camera and the deliberate “degradation” techniques such as the introduction of colour bleeding. Still, my overall impression is that what we’re seeing here is mostly excellent and a faithful representation of the film’s intended look, maintaining the deliberately pronounced grain structure and with a pleasing amount of detail visible throughout. Unfortunately, a frequent Warner shortcoming - inadequate bit rate - rears its ugly head here in the form of a smattering of compression artefacts. Otherwise, though, it’s all good.
Much the same can be said of the audio, which comes in both lossless Dolby TrueHD and lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 EX affairs (annoyingly, the disc defaults to the latter). As I mentioned in the main body of the review, the mix is a veritable snowstorm of disparate elements, with music, effects and speech being thrown at the viewer left, right and centre. Despite this, the dialogue is consistently clear and well-focused, while the LFE gives the various shoot-outs the appropriate amount of oomph. It’s a very involving mix, but, as with the visual style, the extent to which you enjoy being involved in it will likely depend on your tolerance for all things loud and abrasive.
Optional English and Spanish subtitles are provided for the film. In a continually irritating trend, they are overlaid on top of the letterbox bar at the bottom of the screen, rendering them useless for viewers with anamorphic projection lenses. The extras are unsubtitled.
All of the extras from the New Line Platinum Series 2-disc DVD have been ported over for this BD release:
- Audio commentary: This track features director Tony Scott and writer Richard Kelly, both of whom complement each other well despite having been recorded separately and edited together. As tracks of this sort go, it’s a very good one, with Scott coming across as likeably candid and suitably laidback, while Kelly is more focused in his comments. There’s little in the way of blank space and both speakers are consistently engaging, discussing both the real Domino Harvey (whom both of them met in person) and the film itself, not least the various pitfalls they encountered during what appears to have been a rather troubled production.
- Alternate audio track: An interesting idea, this track is essentially a collection of clips from audio recordings taken from production meetings between Scott, Kelly and various other parties. Although somewhat unfocused and hampered to a degree by the ropey quality of the recordings, the overall effect is actually rather effective, offering a insight into a part of the production process that is often unseen.
- I am a Bounty Hunter: Essentially an overview of the life of Domino Harvey as told by a combination of friends, family and colleagues, as well as cast and crew members, this featurette provides a more accurate representation of events and turns out to be an interesting and very watchable account, achieving a level of poignancy that is absent in the film itself. An alternate audio track is also provided, consisting of snippets of interviews with Domino conducted by Richard Kelly. (Running time: 20:31)
- Bounty Hunting on Acid: Tony Scott’s Visual Style: In this brief featurette, various crew members discuss the film’s look, primarily derived from various experiments Scott conducted while shooting TV commercials between movies. A lot is made of the notion that the visuals are supposedly character-motivated, which I can’t say convinces me a great deal. (Running time: 10:36)
- Deleted scenes: Seven scenes are presented here, all with optional commentary by Tony Scott. Ranging from extensions of scenes that ended up in the movie anyway to a raunchier version of the sex scene between Keira Knightley and Edgar Ramirez. Slightly surprisingly for a catalogue release (although welcome nonetheless), all of these are presented in high definition and look very good indeed, albeit in a compromised 1.78:1 aspect ratio. (Running time: 07:53)
- Trailers: The film’s teaser and theatrical trailers are also included, the former in HD and the latter in standard definition.
There are no Blu-ray exclusive extras on this release, unless you count the thoroughly useless extra Digital Copy disc, which jacks up the price and is basically a glorified Frisbee. A Frisbee with really poor image quality.
Click the image above to enlarge to full size.
While the film itself is, to put it politely, an acquired taste, Warner and New Line have served up a better package for Domino on Blu-ray than we had any reason to expect. A solid package all round, it trounces the previous DVD release in terms of audio-visual quality and matches it as far as bonus content is concerned.
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