I don’t want Brian De Palma to stop making movies, not ever. But I also don’t want him making movies like Domino, his latest work that is such a retread of better movies by De Palma that it almost feels like a greatest hits collection, or worse—a covers album. Only this time, the artist is covering himself.
Domino begins in Denmark with Copenhagen police officer Christian (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, recently of “Game of Thrones”) responding to a domestic disturbance call with his partner (Søren Malling). They catch a suspect because he has blood on his shoes, and when Christian is about to head to the apartment where the crime presumably took place, he borrows his partner’s gun because he left his at home. But as a result, when the suspect escapes his handcuffs, he stabs the unarmed partner’s neck and escapes out a window. Christian pursues him as his partner slowly bleeds out, and the suspect gets away—or more precisely is taken away by unknown captors who turn out to be a CIA team led by “Joe Martin” (Guy Pearce).
Certainly, a setup like this is worthy of some intrigue, and it’s a great way to open a movie. But as the film moves on, we start to notice techniques and tricks that De Palma has used before and better: split screen, long tracking shots through a crowded venue (in this case a bullfighting arena), and some fairly extreme violence. We find out soon enough that the assailant that got away is Imran (Eriq Ebouaney, of De Palma’s Femme Fatale), believed to be a member of ISIS. He’s so valuable as a source and a weapon that the CIA wants him to go back to his handlers and take them out and/or extract information from them. To that end, the CIA clandestinely do their best to keep him away from Christian and his new partner Alex (Carice van Houten, also from “GoT”), who has a connection to his former partner that would have been pretty surprising if it weren’t telegraphed in every scene leading up to its reveal.
The fact that De Palma (working from a pretty flimsy screenplay by Petter Skavlan) has his villainous force be ISIS and not some made-up terrorist organization feels both gutsy and reckless. Either way, it gives the filmmaker the rather harrowing opportunity to re-create ISIS execution videos, including some rather shocking beheadings. In a better film, this might be an effective tool to add authenticity to the story, but here it just feels like De Palma is doing it because he can get away with it. And while I didn’t find the footage offensive, that doesn’t stop it from feeling like cheap exploitation. The more we find out about Imran, the more we begin to empathize with his situation. That doesn’t stop the Danish police from tracking him outside of Denmark and getting closer to finding the leader of this particular ISIS cell, Salah Al-Din (Mohammed Azaay), leading both police and CIA into the middle of what could be a disastrous terrorist attack.
The final 20-25 minutes of Domino are masterfully crafted and classic De Palma staging and camerawork, and that’s partially the problem with the film. It all feels exceedingly familiar. Granted, a lot of what made De Palma great in his earlier works was his love—and sometimes reworking—of the great Alfred Hitchcock. But here, the director is only aping himself. Coupled with a useless script and even bad acting on the part of some of the leads (although Pearce is magnificent as the too-cool-for-school CIA agent), the entire work is sadly disappointing.
As far as I can tell, the only place Domino is available locally is on VOD beginning Friday, although it may creep into some suburban screen without any fanfare, but don’t count on it.
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