AND HASSENGER - HOW DOMINO FITS INTO "THE BRIAN DE PALMA PARADOX"
Two of the critics at RogerEbert.com, including De Palma enthusiast Peter Sobczynski, weighed in on Domino today, as did Rolling Stone's David Fear. Here are some links:
These are flaws, to be sure, and they might have indeed sunk many an ordinary movie. However, “Domino” is still a Brian De Palma film, and those who still thrill at the very sound of that phrase will find a lot to enjoy here. Many of the obsessions he has explored throughout his career are on display in "Domino," both dramatic (voyeurism, mistrust of authority, a fascination with technology and the various ways in which it can be manipulated) and cinematic (including split-diopter shots and gorgeous deployment of slow motion at key moments). Although the script is largely straight-faced throughout, there are a couple of moments of De Palma’s trademark dark humor, including a bit in which a character analyzes a brutal torture video to note all the cinematic techniques being deployed with the fervor of someone taking note of every frame of a new trailer for some upcoming blockbuster. And, of course, there are the big set pieces—including an early rooftop chase that provides thrills and a tip of the hat to “Vertigo,” a terrorist attack that Al Din directs from afar as if he was a filmmaker himself and a climactic confrontation at a bullfight in Spain that takes up much of the final third. In that last scene especially, cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine (who has shot most of Pedro Almodovar’s films as well as De Palma’s “Passion”), editor Bill Pankow, and composer Pino Donaggio combine their considerable talents to create a thrilling display of sound and vision that distinguishes them from the largely forgettable CGI melanges that currently dominate the multiplex scene.
“Domino” is not a De Palma classic on the level of “Dressed to Kill” or “Blow Out,” and it doesn’t reach the heights of such recent masterworks as “Femme Fatale” or the absurdly overlooked “Passion.” However, though it may ultimately go down as second-tier De Palma, his second tier beats the hell out of the top-level efforts of most filmmakers. The great Howard Hawks once famously stated that “A good movie is three good scenes and no bad ones.” “Domino” certainly contains the requisite three good scenes and they are so good that I found it easy to forget, or at least forgive, the ones that do not quite work. This is not a great Brian De Palma film in the end, but its best moments will remind you of just how great he can be.
Jesse Hassenger, RogerEbert.com
At first, it’s a little disappointing to realize “Domino” isn’t going to reach the heights of “Passion,” nevermind “Femme Fatale” or “Raising Cain.” But as with his 2000s triptych of studio disappointments, there’s also something glorious about being freed from the confines of a pretty rote thriller and simply waiting for De Palma to uncork some rococo bit of violent suspense (“Passion” has a similar waiting period, but with more sustained tension than his weakest studio films).
On paper, “Domino” is about a police officer (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) pursuing a terrorist (Eriq Ebouaney) who murdered his partner—and who becomes entangled with a shady CIA agent (Guy Pearce), hoping to use the criminal for his own ends. But it’s really about one bravura set piece at the beginning, and one bravura set piece at the end. Most of the rest of the movie is a tangled, slack, fraying hammock tied between those two beautiful trees.
Variations on this metaphor can describe a lot of De Palma’s most inconsistent movies: “Mission to Mars,” for example, is a perfectly woven hammock tied tight between two rotting trees on the verge of collapse. The perfectly woven hammock in that movie is a superb outer-space sequence where a crew of Mars-bound astronauts must abandon their ship and attempt to land a much smaller orbiting capsule on the red planet. When I first saw this movie upon its 2000 release, I was gripped by this chunk of the movie, even seeing it twice, but came out of the experience feeling irritated with De Palma, who I’d last seen squandering the terrific simulated single-take opening sequence of “Snake Eyes”—a shot of adrenaline that carries the movie through the majority of its running time...
...“Domino” doesn’t have a star performance to carry it along, but it does have its obligatory highlight-reel moments to open and close things up. The first one, beginning with a long push-in to establish that the cop has forgotten his firearm at home, and continuing through his partner’s murder and the murderer’s escape, is well-squeezed pulp, and the movie’s finale, involving an attempted terrorist attack at a stadium, applies that slow-burn Hitchcockian verve to a disconcertingly contemporary setting. There’s some attempt to point De Palma’s voyeurism toward the exhibition of modern terrorism, but it only occasionally tracks with what actually happens in the movie.
Maybe future repeat viewings of those good parts will be kind to “Domino” overall, just as its big-studio cousins that don’t hang together are less frustrating in retrospect. But in some ways, those two scenes are all “Domino” really needs. In the right frame of mind, coming across a couple of holy-mackerel sequences in an otherwise clumsy movie creates its own kind of ecstasy—not exclusive to this filmmaker, of course, but particularly compatible with his interests and obsessions.
De Palma has been both hailed and criticized for making self-justifying movie-movies, full of homages, films within films, and B-picture artifice, and even his most evenhanded films have especially memorable set pieces that jut out of them prominently. In his more wildly uneven work, those masterful stretches feel weirdly authentic to the experience of watching a lot of movies—in fact, they resemble the critic-like practice of sifting through hundreds of releases and finding the occasional moment of transcendence. He’s one of the best filmmakers alive at gussying up simple thriller actions—a murder, a chase, the discovery of a body—into beguiling, elaborate movies unto themselves, sometimes to the point of liberating them from their original homes in perfunctory, confusing, or uninvolving narratives. It’s a talent both expansive and, in a pleasurable way, reductive. There’s a purity to a mixed-bag De Palma movie that some genuinely successful movies will never achieve. Would his filmography be as much fun without them?
David Fear, Rolling Stone
You do not have to squint very hard to see Brian De Palma in Domino. Not literally, mind you … he doesn’t usually take his Hitchcock fetish to constant-cameo lengths. But he’s there in the ominous zoom-in to a gun that a Copenhagen cop named Christian (Game of Thrones‘ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has left on a chair in his apartment. He’s there in the sequence of Christian hanging perilously off a tall building’s breaking rain-gutter, chasing after the man who attacked his partner — a Vertigo reference writ large. He’s there every time Pino Donaggio’s score channels Bernard Hermann’s ghost while the cameras creep slowly around corners, or when, in a climactic set piece played out like a Carrie-level slo-mo car wreck, the composer cleverly riffs on Ravel’s “Bolero.” And he’s most definitely there whenever someone is framed through a far away window or via binoculars, as if they’re being spied upon, or via split-composed surveillance footage and smart-phone screens. No other American filmmaker has turned the two-way art of observation into such a cinematic obsession.
In other words: Yes, this thriller about Danish police officers chasing ISIS terrorists through two European countries is indeed a De Palma joint. A messy, uneven, heavy-handed, occasionally inspired, often insipid, steroidally stylistic De Palma joint, but one that fits the description in enough fits and starts to warrant the claim. The safari-jacketed gent himself has gone to great lengths to distance himself from a project that’s clearly been cobbled together at very little expense, despite the shady behind-the-scenes money moves; slapping “from the director of Mission: Impossible and Scarface” on the trailer, while technically correct, feels like false advertising. Whatever interest the 78-year-old “Master of the Macabre” has in this for-hire work does not revolve around Petter Skavlan’s script or the espionage-tinged narrative. As a potboiler, Domino is D.O.A. As a game of spot-the-auteurist motifs, however, this exercise in De Palma-reading is practically a gas.