AND LINKS TO SOME OTHER REVIEWS
A review embargo lifted yesterday morning, and Domino reviews have been popping up since. Here are some links:
So: Domino. The latest from Brian De Palma hits film culture not unlike a moody son trudging to their graduation party at a parent’s behest, a master of big-screen compositions relegated to VOD for those who bother plunking down. That tussle between pedigree of talent and nature of distribution foretells the chaos within: at one moment lit like a Home Depot model living room–a fault I’m more willing to chalk up to incomplete post-production, less likely to blame on Pedro Almodóvar’s longtime DP José Luis Alcaine–the next photographed and cut as if an old pros’ sumptuous fuck-you to pre-vis-heavy and coverage-obsessed action-filmmaking climate, the next maybe just an assembly of whatever master shots the team could scrounge together during those 30 production days. To these eyes it’s a chaotic joy; nearly malicious, deeply serious about the wounds of contemporary terrorism, and smart enough to pull off a mocking of the circumstances around those fighting it.
I have seen Domino twice and express little reservation saying its plot, courtesy of scribe Petter Skavlan, rests somewhere between formalist window dressing and outright catalyst for those plug-and-play habits. Be even a little versed in De Palma and you know what’s to come: God’s-eye (or director’s; same difference) surveillance shots, split screens as an actual plot device, a melodramatic thread over which to lay molasses-thick Pino Donaggio cues treating much of this as a big joke; the plot-setting incident being yet another assault on a stairwell.
Make no mistake, it’s mostly staged for campiness. More often than not that De Palma touch is zooming in on the specter of terrorism until it can find something ridiculous, heightened, thrilling in their possibilities. The rub is that Domino comes into a world with too many scarring reflections of itself to sit right. How amusing that a director so fascinated with the voyeurism-violence dichotomy would make a terrorist thriller about insurgents using the power of propaganda. Its own protagonist (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, carrying a blankness that lets every expression running across his face draw the movie’s emotions in even bigger lines) makes note of their formal sophistication: “even a drone shot!” But the movie’s high-wire act between gawking and actually showing can suddenly yank any fun from our grasp. Safe to say that watching Domino less than a month after the livestreamed Christchurch massacre–among the best warning signs of how deep into horror our world’s being brought–makes for one of De Palma’s few setpieces wherein aesthetic pleasure stings like sin.
Robert Kojder, Flickering Myth
For a film mired in production troubles (apparently, the crew were only able to shoot 30 days/100 and were gipped out of some serious funds), Domino is… good. More than anything, it’s a testament to how strong of a filmmaker Brian De Palma is and remains to this day, overcoming numerous hurdles to present 89 minutes (cut down from a little over two hours, for better or worse) of lean crowd-pleasing thrills grounded in revenge and ISIS hunting...
Like everything else preceding it, the finale is simply awesome, combining realistic threats with outrageously gnarly violence baked into personal vendettas that come to a head. Unfortunately, for as impressively technically crafted Brian De Palma’s film is, it’s painfully obvious that story beats are not as fleshed out as desired and that material was indeed left on the cutting room floor (and I’m willing to bet it has something to do with being screwed over doing shooting rather than creative liberties), but what’s here is undeniably sound and compelling. Domino is a short and sweet suspenseful terrorism thriller teaming up a pair of Game of Thrones stars, that also isn’t afraid to linger on the monster that is ISIS. The violence is enjoyable but not without important real-world parallels, which could have resulted in a bold misfire if not in the hands of a veteran like Brian De Palma. More impressively, it looks and sounds incredible.
Richard Brody, The New Yorker
De Palma displays glimmers of imaginative energy in images like those that have graced his films for half a century, including tense crane shots and jangling split screens, but the political intrigue is stale and stereotyped, the characters might as well be windup toys, and the gore is repulsive and gratuitous.
Niles Schwartz, Slant Magazine
Early in Brian De Palma’s Domino, Christian (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) wakes at daybreak and tries to roll out of the arms of his lover. The camera peers down at the detective and ever so slowly zooms in on his bed. Soon it becomes apparent that the camera isn’t even interested in the happy couple, but the gun set off to the side. Here as much as ever, De Palma has fun flexing his formal acumen, building a foundation of suspense with the camera and its subject, portending how Christian, once he manages to get his clothes on, will forget to pack heat, setting into motion a, yes, domino-like chain of mishaps.
De Palma would appear to be on familiar terrain with Domino, what with its deliriously extended set pieces, morally ambivalent characters, and smattering of references to his beloved Hitchcock (specifically to Vertigo and To Catch a Thief), with some self-reflexive commentary on the moving image thrown in for good measure. But De Palma has voiced his disfavor with the making of the film, whose production at one point was in danger of being closed down because of funding problems. So, while Domino superficially feels of a piece with what we’ve come to expect from the master filmmaker, it leaves one with the sense, as we’re wheeled from one set piece to the next, that so much texture that could have been extended to the characters’ interrelationships was probably never allowed to come to fruition.
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, AV Club - SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
There are plenty of classic De Palma ingredients to be found in Domino, his first feature since 2013’s Passion: the Hitchcock quotations (including, once again, a sequence cribbed from Vertigo); the side-eyed look at American power; the dual fascinations with surveillance and helplessness. But regrettably, the movie—a troubled production that’s being released under the ignominious tagline “Murder can lead to deadlier crimes”—ranks somewhere near the bottom tier of his filmography. If Passion, an over-the-top remake of Alain Cavalier’s chilly corporate thriller Love Crime, felt like a “for the fans” effort by a director who had effectively been exiled from Hollywood after a string of expensive flops, Domino is the sort of stiff auteur workout that even a De Palma nut might struggle to defend—never anonymous, but shockingly plodding for a movie that barely passes the 80-minute mark before the end credits begin to roll.
Stephen Witty, Screen Daily - SPOILER HERE, TOO
There are some flashes of the famous De Palma artistry here – the first action sequence, in which a domestic-violence investigation goes horribly wrong, has carefully built tension and the requisite nods to Hitchcock; in this case the opening to Vertigo. The finale has some sharp cross-cutting, too. Sometimes the screen is split into halves, even quarters, for multiple, simultaneous images; some scenes are washed in bold, primary colors.
The new world of social media also underlines De Palma’s career-long fascination with voyeurism, as we see people watching each other on phones, internet videos, security-cam footage. Nothing is real unless it’s recorded. Nothing is experienced except at a distance.
Yet as the Copenhagen cop on a quest, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is more dull than dogged, never establishing any on-screen connection with his temporary partner, the vulnerable Carice van Houton. Guy Pearce provides some cynical shadows as the CIA man – and probably could provide more, if De Palma gave him any closeups. But instead he’s half-forgotten.
Much of the film has a similarly unfinished look. (De Palma has already complained, publicly, about the low budget.) Sequences that should be stand-outs – an attack on a film festival, an assault at that bull ring – fizzle due to cramped quarters and an obvious lack of extras. Too many scenes consist of Coster-Waldau and van Houton simply driving around.
The film, though, does make plenty of time for its terrorists, who pray as they piece together bombs and coldly assign assassins. Those details are expected, perhaps, even necessary, in a film whose villains are ISIS members. But Domino practically revels in the scenes (one of which it even reprises, as a kind of warning, before the final credits). Add to that a hero named “Christian,” and it feels as if the film’s real subject isn’t Islamic terror but terror of Islam.