Domino (2019)

*. The DVD box alerts you that this one comes to us “from the director of Mission: Impossible.” I saw that and thought it must be something new by Christopher McQuarrie, and I was wondering how he found the time to direct this while doing all those Tom Cruise movies. But in fact they really did mean Mission: Impossible, the first movie in that series, and the director was Brian De Palma. I guess “the director of Sisters, Carrie, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Scarface, or The Untouchables” doesn’t mean as much today. Though the official trailer did give him credit for Mission Impossible [sic] and Scarface.
*. Sticking with the DVD, a menu screen comes up with exactly one item on it. Play. No set-up. No previews. No special features or bonuses. Just Play. Call me superficial, but that gave me a bad feeling. That and the fact that the reviews were terrible.
*. It deserved better. While this is a long way away from De Palma’s glory days he still makes what he can out of it. Not a good movie, but no worse than average.
*. It’s a lousy script and the cast, with the exception of Eriq Ebouaney, fail to make anything out of it. There were a lot of production problems due to financing issues. There were also reports about cuts being made in post production, but De Palma later stated that these rumors were not true and that the final cut was his.

*. The signature De Palma elements are all here. The split screens. The slow zooms. The jump cuts. The voyeurism (everything is being filmed in the twenty-first century, which shows that we’re catching up to him). The riffs on Hitchcock. Sure they feel less inspired and are presented with less energy than thirty (or I guess forty) years ago, but there are a couple of sequences that are still quite good. The opening business in the apartment building when the hero’s partner is killed is the best of these, and I think stands up well alongside De Palma’s other work. The finale, with Pino Donnagio’s score borrowing heavily from Ravel’s “Boléro” (fairly enough), is far less effective, cutting between a number of curiously static compositions. Most unfortunate of all, however, is the terrorist attack on the film festival, which plays out so much like a video game being used for training purposes that I was sure that was what was going on. But I was wrong.
*. So I don’t blame the old guard. Some critics complained that De Palma was on autopilot here but I think he (and Donaggio) were trying. That the film fails to gain any traction is mainly due to the stupid story and wooden cast. It’s impossible to care a bit about what’s going on, despite the heightened emotional states being invoked as a way of ratcheting up the suspense (a woman looking to avenge the murder of her lover; a man trying to save his family).
*. Why does it end with the terrorist video playing on a YouTube-style platform, accompanied by the terrorist leader’s speech about martyrdom? Is this meant as some kind of critique of violence on the Internet? Also, as I mentioned earlier, the attack on the film festival is the weakest part of the entire movie, so why would they want to show it to us twice?
*. Domino isn’t a good movie, and the fact that De Palma directed it may have played against it in some circles. People may have been expecting more. I think this would have been unrealistic since De Palma hasn’t had a hit since Mission: Impossible (1996) and Domino probably wasn’t a project he felt very invested in. I don’t think he gets his choice of a lot of good material these days. Put another way, this Domino is likely a better movie than it would have been without him. But that’s the best I can say for it.

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