"ONLY DE PALMA WOULD MAKE TERRORISM THRILLER IN WHICH HE'S MOST INTERESTED IN THEIR FILMMAKING METHODS"
Jordan Raup, a critic for The Film Stage who also writes for Film Comment and other outlets, tweeted a first impression of Domino this morning before posting a slightly longer version on Letterboxd, where he gives the film three and a half stars:
Only Brian De Palma would make a terrorism thriller in which he's most interested in their filmmaking methods. Hugely entertaining in spurts (mostly setpieces and high melodrama), if noticeably compromised elsewhere (transitional scenes and standard crime drama machinations). Another bombastic Pino Donaggio score layering nearly every moment and José Luis Alcaine's cinematography is a peculiar mix of buoyantly colorful and DTV-esque flatness. An I-can't-believe-he-did-this banger of an ending.
Back on Twitter, Aza124 asks Raup, "How long was the cut you saw?" Raup responds, "89 minutes. I know there's a rumored 150-minute cut, but I couldn't quite imagine that version revealing a hidden masterpiece based on what's here. Though I'd certainly watch it."
Raup's response echoes that of Austin critic Jacob Knight, who posted a two-and-a-half-star review on Letterboxd April 1st. Responding to a comment about "the 148 minute cut," Knight said, "I'm not sure where that runtime is being taken from (maybe the early test screenings that occurred before Berlinale?), but I'm definitely sure I wouldn't want to sit through almost 2.5 hours of this movie (oh, who am I kidding, if they released it, I'd watch it ASAP)." Despite feeling disappointed with Domino overall, Knight says a lot of good things about the movie in his review:
"We're Americans. We read your emails."
Ugh. This is a tough one.
De Palma has already stated in interviews that DOMINO was "underfunded", and that he spent most of his 100 days in Denmark/Holland/Spain/Italy waiting around in hotel rooms while the money men kept "lying", and even refused to pay certain crew members at the end of production. Out of those 100, he only shot for 30, and the finished product went back to the producers, who basically bungled it playing any fests and sold it to DTV distributor Saban Films, who are quietly releasing his take on Scandi Noir this May.
To be fair, the finished cut of DOMINO feels like an unfinished film, right down to the chintzy, placeholder-esque title card and lack of any cast or crew listings before we're thrown into a convoluted tale of two Copenhagen cops literally stumbling into a terrorist plot that claims one of their lives, and sends the other (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) on a quest for revenge. Along this crooked path, we also find a smarmy CIA man (Guy Pearce) who essentially uses the Euro dick's vengeance vector (FEMME FATALE's Eriq Ebouaney!) as a pawn in his own game to take down this terror cell. On paper, this actually sounds like meaty pulp that BDP could really sink his teeth into, concocting set pieces not too far removed from his pop cinema masterpiece, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE.
In classic De Palma fashion there are two straight up great set pieces. The first is the initial pursuit of Ebouaney's terror suspect across a rooftop, which evokes some serious VERTIGO vibes. The second is the finale at a bullfight being held at Spain's Plaza de Toros, which involves a drone, a suicide bomber dressed as a beer vendor, some binoculars, and Carice van Houten frantically searching for any way to stop an atrocity from happening. These are both wonderful fun, and when coupled with a masterful early set up scene (where we ominously descend upon a gun as two lovers embrace - BDP's own spin on Chekhov, I suppose), remind you that DOMINO could've only been made by one artist with a particular, peculiar set of fascinations. There's also a brilliant thread about how terrorist videos (both manifestos and beheading clips) play on human beings' morbid inclination toward voyeurism, that isn't fully fleshed out, but feels of a piece with the rest of his leering filmography.
Unfortunately, the rest is pretty poorly stitched together, barely running over 80 minutes (which could be a positive, depending on the viewer's own vantage point), with regular Almodovar cinematographer José Luis Alcaine's photography appearing oddly flat. Even Pino Donaggio's score - which is just as a brilliantly bombastic and beautiful as we've come to expect - can't lift the limp drama that occurs between these moments. It's a bummer, but a watchable bummer, making me hope that De Palma's book (ARE SNAKES NECESSARY?) eventually is translated into English (try as I may, I can't read French) and that someone gives him money to make PREDATOR (or anything else), ensuring that DOMINO is not the period at the end of my favorite filmmaker's sentence.