DOMINO - Blu-ray review

...a tribute to Domino Harvey that reduces her to a nerve-jangling, romanticized song lyric.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
Puccio

Note: In the following joint Blu-ray review, both John and Erik provide their opinions on the film, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Shots.

The Movie According to John:
I ran across this 2005, quasi real-life adventure movie, "Domino," a couple of years after its release while surfing through the cable movie channels. I got into it late, watched about twenty minutes or so, and couldn't make heads nor tails of it. What I did come away with was a thorough dislike for most of the visual gimmicks, camera movements, and quick edits employed by director Tony Scott ("Top Gun," "Days of Thunder," "Crimson Tide," "The Fan," "Enemy of the State," "Spy Game," Deja Vu"). I hoped I'd like the film better on high-definition Blu-ray, but, alas, no such luck.

The "real-life" part derives from the fact that the filmmakers loosely based their film on the real-life Domino Harvey, daughter of film star Laurence Harvey and model Pauline Stone. Ms. Harvey was a rebellious youth who got herself kicked out of school for fighting, allegedly took a fling at fashion modeling, ran a night club, worked on a ranch, and ended up with a team of bounty hunters in L.A. That's a story Hollywood found hard to resist. However, some of the story's ultraromantic luster diminished when Ms. Harvey died of a drug overdose just months before the film's release. Talk about bad timing.

I suppose it was because of Ms. Harvey's tumultuous lifestyle that director Scott decided to shoot the picture through a mad swirl of purple haze. He uses every trick in the book to drum up some excitement, but whether he succeeds or not may be a matter of the viewer's tolerance for over-the-top filmmaking techniques. Think here of Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers" and multiple it by whatever.

In attempting to get and keep our attention, Scott employs quick cuts; yellowish-green hues; oversaturated colors; slow motion, fast motion, stop motion, and blurred motion camera work; extreme close-ups; goofy shooting angles; and occasional black-and-white bits. Add in a deliriously pulsating music track, and you get a sort of rock-drug-acid-trippy feel that Scott must have intended to complement the turbulent semi-biography he was filming. For me, it just felt jumbled, confusing, and nerve-wracking for the sake of being different.

Fortunately, a good cast saves what otherwise might have been a train wreck. Keira Knightley plays Domino, the actress being about the same age as Domino at the time and bearing a resemblance. Knightley has shown some flair in roles as diverse as Jane Austen heroines to eighteenth-century pirates to King Arthur's Queen Guinevere. Here, she's a kick-ass toughie who can more than hold her own with the men around her.

More important, though, is Mickey Rourke as Ed Moseby, the boss of the bounty-hunting team that Domino joins. Critics have been praising Rourke's role in 2008's "The Wrestler" as though he had been away from movies forever and become a forgotten actor. They seem to have overlooked that he has been working steadily for years in films like "Get Carter," "The Pledge," "Man on Fire," "Sin City," and "Domino." In any case, he's the best part of the show, portraying the only character in the film with genuine charisma, overshadowing even Keira Knightley and riveting our attention in every scene he's in.

In a flashback, Domino tells the film's story, mostly fictionalized, to an FBI psychologist (Lucy Liu) after Domino becomes involved in a wild armored-car holdup. She explains a little about her childhood growing up in a celebrity family, her school days, her tempestuous, rebellious youth, and then her joining two other bounty hunters, Moseby and Choco (Edgar Ramirez), the latter initially resenting the presence of a woman on the team. This friction eventually leads to something more.

Also in the cast are Delroy Lindo as Claremont Williams III, a bail bondsman who pays the bounty hunters to track down clients who have skipped bail; Rizwan Abbasi as Alf, the team's driver; Dabney Coleman as Drake Bishop, a billionaire casino owner; Jacqueline Bisset as Sophie Wynn, Domino's mother; and Christopher Walken as Mark Heiss, a reality TV producer.

Do the filmmakers exaggerate the bounty-hunting team's exploits in the film? You bet. But the first half of the movie is the better for it. It's primarily an action thriller, after all. It's in the movie's second half that things fall apart. There's a segment set on the "Jerry Springer Show," for instance, that comes out of left field and doesn't even include Domino or her team. There's the reality television show, "Bounty Squad," that puts a mobile crew of filmmakers on the team's tail everywhere they go. And there's the movie's major conflict, which concerns the aforementioned armored-car heist, the casino owner, money for a child's lifesaving operation, a group of crooks wearing First-Lady masks, and the Las Vegas Mob. At this point, it looks as though director Scott and screenwriter Richard Kelly mean to leave the audience in the dust, the movie going in all directions and never recovering.

It's in this final half that the movie also shifts tone, going from being fairly serious to becoming increasingly more ironic, sardonic, and satiric, much in the vein of Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" or Guy Ritchie's "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" but nowhere near as original or as much fun.

By the time the movie ends, it gets all surreal on us, with the humorous twists and bloody violence becoming far too much of a good thing. Nevertheless, you can't say "Domino" doesn't have energy; it's relentless about it, all the while becoming far more repetitious and wearying than exciting or funny. The fact is, the film doesn't really know what it wants, and the result is more chaotic than compelling.

John's film rating: 5/10

The Movie According to Erik:
"Domino" begins with the statement "based on a true story… sort of." These words permeate the rest of the film with a hyper realism that only Tony Scott would be brave enough to attempt in such a boldly raucous manner. The film is a cinematic pastiche, full of kinetic energy that never lets up, not even for a second. As played by Keira Knightley, Domino Harvey is as brazen as the film itself. It's a shame, however, that what's on screen is little more than a shattered reflection of a fascinating individual. That's not to say that there aren't intriguing character moments, there are, but these moments are just as laden with the same inspired frenzy as the rest of the film and prove maddening at times. "Domino" suffers from, and is equally enlivened by, what seems like a severe case of ADD laced with acid.

Scott has become more abrasive with his aesthetic experimentation. This latest foray is a more galvanized mixture of "True Romance," "Man on Fire," and "Beat the Devil," his entry into the BMW short films series. The look is quite amazing; he speeds the camera up, slows it down, saturates colors, uses various forms of cross processing, all to achieve a style that is extremely expressive of the various characters' emotions. Sometimes it's a rousing success, while at others it becomes a textbook case of style over substance.

The story, as written by "Donnie Darko" writer-director Richard Kelly, is as frenetic as the film's visual style. The titular Domino Harvey (Knightley), daughter of actor Laurence Harvey (best known for his work in "The Manchurian Candidate" opposite Frank Sinatra) and Vogue model Paulene Stone (renamed Sophie Wynn for the film and played by Jacqueline Bisset), is born into a life of wealth and privilege. When her father dies at a young age, Domino's mother sends her to boarding school, where she begins to rebel early on. Her mother pushes Domino to find more "normal" things to become involved with. One such thing is joining a sorority in college, where she ultimately gives a sorority sister an impromptu nose job, which quickly gets Domino kicked out of school. She soon begins working as a model, which doesn't last long either.

Through these early years she picks up a fondness for violence, particularly fist fighting, throwing knives, and nunchaku (which Knightley wields rather impressively). In an ultimate act of rebellion, Domino becomes a bounty hunter and hooks up with a team consisting of the wonderfully colorful Choco (Edgar Ramierez), who speaks in unintelligible Spanish half the time, even though he speaks fluent English, and the archetypical tough guy Ed Mosby (Mickey Rourke). Both men are played with such irreverent macho bravado that it practically seeps off the screen.

The trio quickly becomes the most successful and infamous group of bounty hunters in Los Angeles, no doubt, in part, due to Domino's upbringing. Veering off the true-to-life road, they sign up to become the stars of a reality television series that revolves around their careers as bounty hunters. In reality the show never existed, and it almost feels that this device was employed so Christopher Walken could have a small part as the network executive in charge of the show. He's in true self-parody form here and adds a nice touch of humor to an otherwise gritty, yet over-the-top film. All of this is grounded by an interrogation being conducted between Domino and an FBI profiler, played to cold perfection by Lucy Liu.

The film carries itself with a wispy air of self-reflexivity that is sometimes self indulgent but always with a confident tongue in cheek demeanor. The story scurries around in time, jumping back and forth from events in what at first feels out of place but lends itself to a chaotic sense of order that actually works. Kelly balances Domino's story with equal doses of true-life inspiration and overzealous bends of fiction that feel like an ethereal fever dream. It's this balance or imbalance, rather, which makes it difficult to tell Domino's story. There is a fair amount of voice-over narration that really does add to what's being seen, and Domino comes across as a truly fascinating individual, but one who always seems to be an arm's length away. Domino's journey is full of so much promise and possibility it's a shame that it ultimately never goes anywhere; but, frankly, it is one hell of a ride.

"Domino" is by no means a great achievement in filmmaking. However, Scott, Kelly, and Knightley give us an intensely electric film about the life of an enthralling individual. The film is quite compelling and often times beautiful because of its visual style, but it sometimes slips into frustratingly vapid monotony because of a story that never quite grips the viewer. It features a wonderful cast, interesting set pieces, and a great lead, who, unfortunately, seems to get lost amidst the madness.

Erik's film rating: 7/10

Video:
Warner/New Line video engineers present the film in 1080p high definition on a single-layer BD25, using a VC-1 codec. Because Scott shot the movie with both conventional film stock and a digital camera and because he utilized such an oddball visual style, it makes judging the Blu-ray transfer a little difficult. When the picture looks good, it looks great, with realistic colors and extremely precise detailing and delineation. But when Scott is dicing things up, which happens most of the time, all that good definition and color get deliberately smeared up and messy. I dunno. I suppose it's as good as it can be.

Audio:
The disc offers the soundtrack in lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 and lossless Dolby TrueHD, the regular Dolby Digital being the default. I still don't understand why a viewer with the ability to decode TrueHD has to remember to change the audio at start-up, but that's the way Warner/New Line seem to like it. I mean, if the default were TrueHD, a receiver or TV that couldn't play it would automatically switch to the Dolby Digital, anyhow, no? Oh, well.

The TrueHD has a strong dynamic impact, with a wide frequency range and deep bass. There is a vivid, you-are-there presence to the sound, with gunshots and shotgun blasts coming through with resounding authority. Scott tries his best to immerse you in the sound field and practically drowns you doing it. If the soundtrack weren't so relentlessly noisy most of the time, I could rate it even higher.

Extras:
There are the usual extras on the disc, some of them of interest. First up are a pair of audio commentaries, one by director Tony Scott and writer Richard Kelly and another with script notes and story development meetings with Scott, Kelly, executive producer Zach Schiff-Abrams, and co-star Tom Waits. After that are seven deleted scenes that the keep case says are in high definition; they total about eight minutes and show up in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Following those items are several featurettes: "I Am a Bounty Hunter: Domino Harvey's Life," a twenty-minute biography of the real Domino with interviews with several of the actual characters portrayed in the movie, including Ms. Harvey herself; then there is the same featurette with an alternate audio track where screenwriter Kelly interviews Ms. Harvey; and lastly "Bounty Hunting on Acid: Tony Scott's Visual Style," ten minutes on Tony Scott's vision for the movie.

The extras conclude with twenty scene selections but no bookmarks; a teaser and a theatrical trailer; pop-up menus; English as the only spoken language; Spanish subtitles; English captions for the hearing impaired; and a bonus digital copy disc of the film, compatible with iTunes and Windows Media devices.

Parting Shots:
On one of the disc's accompanying featurettes, director Scott says he was always a rock-and-roller at heart, and this film was a tribute to his love of the rock genre. The movie certainly has the kind of straight-ahead, no-holds-barred pulse and rhythm we find in typical rock tunes, and it's about as empty as the same, too. Scott made a tribute to Domino Harvey that reduces her to a nerve-jangling, romanticized song lyric. Maybe if he'd have been a closet rapper....?

The Film Value below is an average of the two reviewer's ratings.

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
8
Extras
8
Film Value
6