Domino

October, 2005, Thriller

Directed by:Tony Scott

Starring:Keira Knightley, Mickey Rourke, Edgar Ramirez, Lucy Liu, Jacqueline Bisset, and Delroy Lindo

Once upon a time, a nice boy from a Yiddish-Lithuanian family migrated to South Africa, became an actor, took the stage name Lawrence Harvey and wound up staring in an American classic called The Manchurian Candidate. Alongside appearances in a host of other forgettable movies (including a stint as Colonel Travis in John Wayne's The Alamo), Harvey also fathered a daughter named Domino who drifted around the edges of Los Angles society after her father's death, did drugs and ultimately became a bounty hunter before dying from a heart attack earlier this year at age 35. That’s a life which would seem to provide material aplenty for a good screenplay, is it not?

British-born director Tony Scott, (Top Gun, Crimson Tide, Man On Fire) befriended Ms. Harvey some years ago and in his words became, "a father figure to her".    He decided to make a movie about her life; exactly why and what it's actually about remains murky, but if nothing else it proves that the director can combine a big budget with dazzlingly inventive cinematography to produce a film with the bad-assed vulgarity of Tarintino's Kill Bill or Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers. Whether that's an accomplishment is another matter.

Mixing a deliberately florid use of color, hyper-kinetic editing and preposterously outlandish characters, (in gruesome action sequences even more improbable than those employed in his previous movies) Scott provides audiences with the cinematic equivalent of a rabid dog. If its elements sound deliberately cartoon-ish, they certainly are--but they come with the capacity to dazzle the eye and grab the attention of even the most jaded moviegoer. 

Scott begins with a police interrogation washed in garish tones of yellow and green, leaps backward to quickly summarize Domino's childhood then forward to prowl with her into L.A.'s seamy underbelly, fending off its denizens with snarling profanity and moves that would make a martial arts professional proud. Along the way, she meets bail bondsman Delroy Lindo, who masterminds felonies on the side, Choco, (Edgar Ramirez) a nearly catatonic Latino lowlife who thinks he turns women on sexually by chatting with them in Spanish and a philosophical, world-weary bounty hunter named Ed Mosbey who hires Domino to join his crew. The storyline then moves to the heist of $10 million in Las Vegas gambling money, the reward for its return and a $300,000 operation to save a young black child's life. Screenwriter Richard Kelly, (whose script for Donnie Darko was so muddled the film was re-released after its initial distribution so audiences could try to figure it out) doesn't so much unfold these events as hover over them like flies on picnic potato salad.

Keira Knightly plays Domino; the actress has earned superb reviews for her starring role in the upcoming version of Pride & Prejudice, but it's impossible to judge her skills here as she rarely says anything that can be heard over the thunderous pop music employed on the soundtrack

Mosbey is played by Mickey Rourke, an actor whose off-screen life has been every bit as bizarre as the real-life Domino's much shorter one. At age 59, he's mixed a professional boxing career and spousal abuse with his appearance in over 50 movies, one of which earned him the nickname "a human ashtray" from his female co-star.  His much-rearranged face and ravaged look suggest a life lived with nearly complete disregard for his craft, yet his performance here conjures up his brilliant portrayal, 18 years ago, of an alcoholic poet in Barbet Schroder's Barfly. Sadly, the intervening years have definitely not been kind.

Dabney Coleman does a nice turn as a thuggish casino impresario while Lucy Liu depicts an F.B.I agent who'll never grace one of the agency's recruiting posters. Even the eclectic singer/songwriter Tom Waits shows up as a zonked-out serio-preacher who pilots a rusted-out Cadillac convertible. With an inexplicable sermon about fate and personal destiny, he coaxes Domino, Choco & Ed into a final shootout any right-thinking religious fundamentalist would label as the start of Armageddon.

What's Scott up to here? A piece of mass entertainment? A demonstration of Dada-esque film-making? A surreal examination of life at the fringes of contemporary American society? All of the above?  

Domino is too convoluted and awkwardly preachy to appeal directly to the testosterone set that typically buys tickets to Scott's action flicks and its luridly fascinating images and frenetic pacing will surely strike more mature audiences as far too raw for their tastes. Since he undercuts his "based on a true story" introduction with the words "sort of", is he simply using the bizarre life of an acquaintance to line his wallet?  Or is the director mocking the whole notion of big, explosive Hollywood productions, flipping studio moguls and his public a cinematic bird in the process?  Whatever his motivations, they're sure to elude even his most ardent fans.  

The verdict? Domino is big, loud, often incomprehensible and --in spots-- visually riveting. Most importantly, it contains some troubling observations about the price of celebrity, the pandering inherent in much of American television's current fascination with "reality" shows and our culture's obsessive interest in violence. If Domino isn't trying to be deliberately disturbing, it's a fraud; if it’s serious in its intent, the message has been mysteriously packaged.    

 

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