Domino is a car crash of a movie. Not a slight fender bender that chips the paint, but a cartwheeling-down-the-highway-while-on-fire kind of car crash that ends up landing on a gas station and bursting into a ball of flame about twenty stories high. It’s an over the top, out of control, wreck; an eye-blistering, teeth-jarring, epilepsy-inducing head-on collision. Now we have that out of the way, we can continue.
It must have looked great on paper: Keira Knightley playing a tooled-up hard-ass bounty hunter, with a script by Donnie Darko writer/director Richard Kelly and Tony Scott at the helm, fresh from winning plaudits for his movie Man on Fire. With a juicy role for Mickey Rourke—who appears to be making an unexpected comeback after retiring from a brief boxing career and an ill-advised course of plastic surgery—and a cameo from Christopher Walken, how could this movie possibly fail?
The movie is (“sort of”) based on the life of Domino Harvey, a British adrenaline junkie who was expelled from several schools for fighting with boys, became a model for the prestigious Ford agency before finally becoming a bounty hunter. Sadly, she died of a heart attack shortly after the film wrapped, possibly resulting from an overdose. She had been arrested and charged with possession of $2m worth of methamphetamines and was on bail when she was discovered at her home in West Hollywood and pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. A post-mortem proved inconclusive.
With a life as various and interesting as Domino’s, it’s difficult to believe the filmmakers found it necessary to “sex up” her story by introducing convoluted plot strands such as being followed around by a reality TV show hosted by ex Beverly Hills 90210 actors and a double-crossing mafia caper. Although Domino was friends with Tony Scott, acted as advisor on the movie and apparently loved the final result, she was reported to have been upset at the liberties taken with her story.
Because of the number of complex plot elements the film has to cover, Domino hurtles along at breakneck speed. The movie begins at the end: Domino is bloodied, apparently under arrest and is being interviewed by the cold, bitchy Taryn Miles (Lucy Liu). Domino considers her upbringing in flashback and voiceover—conducted in Knightley’s fruity English tones down what seems to be a very poor telephone line—before moving onto her career as a bounty hunter, and finally the reason she’s sitting in the police station being interviewed by the FBI. Annoyingly, the film charges down a particular path only to shrug and admit that what the viewer is seeing on screen is only a possible reality before reversing and taking a different fork in the road and showing what reallyhappened.
Domino is stylishly shot by cinematographer Daniel Mindel in deep saturated colours and high contrast, but is filmed in a bewildering range of film speeds, so the movie speeds up, slows down, stutters, jerks and lopes along, which is fine for a music video, but spread relentlessly across the length of a movie begins to grate like fingernails down a blackboard.
The script allows for very little character development. All the actors do well with the material, despite playing one-note pastiches. Rourke plays Ed Mosbey, Domino’s grizzled boss and the sultry Edgar Ramirez plays Domino’s moody, vaguley psychotic, would-be lover and the third member of the bounty hunting team. Christopher Walken plays a TV producer following the trio around with his camera crew and presenters Ian Ziering and Brian Austin Green from Beverly Hills 90210 (playing themselves).
But the script introduces some unbelievable situations when it deviates from Domino’s real life story, the worst of which is a phone conversation with Claremont Williams (Delroy Lindo), the bounty hunters’ bail bondsman. The line breaks up and while Williams is saying “remove the sleeve from the right arm” of some guy they have tied up, Domino hears it as “remove… the right arm”. And without question—such as asking what the fuck this extreme act hopes to achieve—they do it. And with a shotgun. It’s simply a ridiculous, eye-rolling piece of contrivance that perhaps a more experienced screenwriter might have sidestepped, but Kelly, with only a single previous feature to his name (albeit, a superb feature) includes it without batting an eyelid.
Domino is an unsatisfying mess of a movie, more concerned with superficial gloss than character development. It’s a loud, shallow crowdpleaser that’s hard to recommend to anyone who really likes movies.