There’s something genuinely upsetting about seeing an artist no longer at the top of their game. This is absolutely the case with Brian De Palma’s latest crime thriller, Domino. In 2020, a Danish police officer, Christian (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is seeking revenge after the death of this partner, Lars (Søren Malling), alongside fellow police officer, Alex (Clarice van Houten). The killer is an ISIS agent named Ezra (Eriq Ebouaney) who has since been recruited by the CIA (led by Guy Pearce’s Martin) as a double agent.
For those who might not know, Brian De Palma rose to fame during the New Hollywood era of the late 1960s-early 1970s. Famous for his films’ use of suspense, his previous hits include Carrie (1976), Scarface (1983) and Mission: Impossible (1996), among many others. So hopefully you can understand why I mind found it so upsetting that I spent the majority of the film’s runtime bored and underwhelmed.
I’ve heard rumblings that this film had a troubled production, complete with under-funding and interference on the final cut. To some extent, this is visible in the final product and could explain away some of the film’s problems. However, this film is still unmistakably a De Palma product; from the long, slow zoom towards Christian’s forgotten gun (the catalyst for his partner’s later death), to the almost laughably suspenseful rooftop chase, clearly inspired by Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). Throughout the film, De Palma attempts to build suspense, to differing results. You can tell that he’s not necessarily lost his touch, more that the world has become as voyeuristic as his filmic style tends to be. Combine that with a film that looks at terrorism and it’s hard to note that the film isn’t as clever as it might think it is.
Credit where it’s due though, Domino does offer an interesting view at terrorists-as-filmmakers. In light of the high production videos put out by groups like ISIS, it was disconcerting to see this idea expanded upon further. The film’s most notable terrorist attack features a nervous woman attacking a film festival’s red carpet. With iPhones strapped to her gun, offering us a view of both the shooter and her victims, we see the literal attack on filmmakers as De Palma’s message: terrorists have brought about a new, horrifying brand of filmmaking, whether we like it or not.
This, unfortunately, is as prescient as De Palma gets. Whether it’s because of studio interference or poor direction, I cannot tell, but the performances in this film are as stale as the plot. Feeling very much like a made-for-TV movie, Domino bounces around from one plot to another, with little to no regard for how they can or should interconnect. Despite ostensibly being at fault for his partner’s death, Christian barely, if ever acknowledges any feelings of guilt. Clarice van Houten’s talents are mostly wasted as Lars’ lover, while Guy Pearce seems to be at least be having fun with his Southern-accented CIA agent. Characters have little to no motivation or development outside of the obvious ones (“avenge partner”, “stop terrorists” and/or “commit terrorism”). I spent most of the film trying to figure out how everything would connect together, and when they finally do during the film’s climax, I literally laughed out loud. I’m fairly confident that wasn’t supposed to be my response.
All in all, Domino clearly suffered from at least some form of meddling. But, while this may excuse some of the film’s faults, it ultimately comes out the other end as a disappointing and underwhelming attempt at a crime thriller.