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Domino (2005) Print E-mail
Friday, 14 October 2005
“This is based on a true story—sort of,” the movie coyly begins. Perhaps, perhaps not. Yes, Domino Harvey was a real person, the model-gorgeous daughter of Laurence Harvey; she worked as a bounty hunter and died this year at 35 of a drug overdose. Since the movie is built on the idea that to be a bounty hunter is to live life to the fullest—there’s room for disagreement—it’s bitterly ironic that in living her life to the fullest, she died so young. The real Domino Harvey appears at the end of the film, laughing, looking happy, looking beautiful.

The movie itself is a mess thanks mostly to director Tony Scott. The script by Richard Kelly has some good lines and characterizes some of the players in quick, sure strokes. But the plot is nearly impossible to follow, and would have been even if Scott had shot this in a standard fashion. But he didn’t. He uses the same over-the-top style he did with last year’s “Man on Fire,” a jumbled garble of film stocks, flamboyant editing, pointlessly moving cameras and oversaturated but ugly color. It’s all in grays, oranges and metallic blues, one of the ugliest movies I’ve seen.

Combine that style with the nearly impenetrable plot behind everything and you end up with a movie that, despite some virtues, can swiftly induce a headache and a hasty exit from the theater. It’s as if you were watching something that might have held your interest—but someone is jumping up and down in front of you, waving their arms and whistling “Dixie.” You can’t see the action for the action.

And “Domino” is, for better and worse, crammed with action. That’s what you’d expect in a movie about bounty hunters, and that’s what Tony Scott is determined to give you. He depicts bounty hunters in terms of their own fantasies about themselves—half gangster, half biker, a “free soul” outside the bounds of society, chasing down bail-jumping miscreants not half as cruel as they are themselves. They’re all attitude and big guns, never showing a trace of ordinary human feelings; they’re sardonic, cynical, crude, brutal and, according to this movie, so cool you could die.

We get a little of Domino’s background, and IN the background we often see scenes from Laurence Harvey in the original “Manchurian Candidate” playing on a TV set. As a child in England, Domino steals an American quarter from a church collection plate and flips it to make key decisions throughout her life. In America, she is a pain to her stylish mother (Jacqueline Bisset), and annoyed that her mother is a “Beverly Hills 90210” devotee.
Domino wanders into a lecture/pitch on being a bounty hunter, amusing all the tattooed, pierced, head-shaved bruisers around her. The guy in charge, Claremont Williams (Delroy Lindo), somehow spots her potential; almost immediately, he hires her for his own company and teams her with veterans Ed Moseby (Mickey Rourke) and Choco (Edgar Ramirez). Eventually they’re approached by reality TV mogul Mark Heiss (an underused Christopher Walken) to be the stars of a reality show about bounty hunters. He adds two semi-celebrities, Brian Austin Green and Ian Ziering, both from “Beverly Hills 90210.” This is for irony or something, but nothing very clear develops from this.

Neither does Choco’s mooning over Domino. Though fluent in English, he obstinately speaks Spanish almost all the time, even when trying to make time with Domino, so he doesn’t get very far. This is also irony, or something.

Domino, Ed and Choco are assigned to chase down a parole violator, which gets them involved with the theft of millions of dollars that’s connected to Las Vegas big shot Dabney Coleman and, inevitably, The Mob. The script stretches credibility again and again. Claremont’s girlfriend Lateesha (Mo’Nique) works for the Department of Motor Vehicles; her granddaughter, I think it was, needs a very expensive operation and Lateesha’s insurance doesn’t cover her. This ties in with the missing money.

Also involved is FBI agent Taryn Mills (Lucy Liu), whose interrogation of Domino provides the flashbacks through which the movie’s rocky story is told. After a vehicle disaster in the Las Vegas desert, Domino and Choco take mescaline—this part is convincing—and finally get it on. Then Tom Waits turns up, apparently an emissary from God. Or something. Jerry Springer also turns up, as himself. There are several scenes at the Sam Kinison monument in Needles. Some events we’re shown turn out not to have happened, so the film runs backward for a while, but not long enough.

Keira Knightley is on the verge of becoming a big star; her path to stardom seems so secure that even movies like this and “King Arthur” aren’t likely to deflect her. Insofar as you can tell through all the orange light, rapid editing, moving cameras and coarse-grained photography, she’s pretty good here, even if not quite convincing as an action hero. Mickey Rourke shows that his surprising return-from-hell in “Sin City” wasn’t a fluke; he’s back to stay. Reliables like Dabney Coleman and Christopher Walken can’t make headway against the assault of Scott’s overheated style.

I’m sure Tony Scott regards this style as “edgy,” but he should have realized with an intricate story like this, he needed a straightforward, realistic style. This doesn’t advance cinema, it sends it down a dead-end side road. Scott wanted to make a movie about his friend Domino Harvey for fifteen years; unfortunately, this does very little to honor her.

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