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“Domino Toppling”

“This is based on a true story…sort of” is how the pre-credit disclaimer goes. Which does, at least, show far more honesty by Tony Scott than the usual claims in such things – Blair Witch and Wolf Creek shuffle their feet nervously. Unfortunately, my response would have to be, “This is a watchable movie…sort of.” Scott brings his usual, hyper-kinetic style to the table, but I was prepared for that and so didn’t mind it. No, the major problem was the derailment of the film from the potentially fascinating and probably unique character of Domino, into yet another heist movie. So instead of any insight into personality, we get to watch a bunch of gangsters and low-lives, of whom Domino is merely one, double-cross each other. It’s an hour of watching the corpse of Barbaro being beaten, if you get my drift; even Scott has been here before, to better effect, in True Romance.

When it concentrates on our heroine, however, it’s eminently watchable, Knightley demanding attention in a way where her obvious lack of physical bulk becomes almost irrelevant. [I was surprised to see how the real Domino was similarly wispy, as the photo on the right shows.] Her finest moment is probably during sorority hazing at college, where her tormenter viciously criticizes her figure. Domino coolly stares back, pauses and asks, “Have you had a nose job?” Bemused, the girl says “No” – Domino sucker-punches her in the face. Twice. The incident sums up the feisty, take absolutely no shit attitude of the character brilliantly, and bounty-hunting becomes an obvious, logical choice of career.

She gets a job with Ed Moseby (Rourke) and Choco (Ramirez), who track down people who’ve skipped bail for bondsman Claremont Williams III (Delroy Lindo) – Ed and Claremont are based on real people, who worked as technical advisors on the movie, Choco is apparently a fabrication. Together, they become an efficient team, aided by Domino’s skills both with weapons and in street psychology. However, Williams has a plot to steal $10m from a Las Vegas casino, which goes badly wrong, not least because two of his chosen patsies to take the fall, are actually the sons of a mob boss. It all ends in a massive gun-battle at the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas, where everyone is after the cash and survival.

The film is filled with distracting stunt casting in the minor roles. This includes Christopher Walken, Mena Suvari, Lucy Liu, Jacqueline Bisset, two guys from Beverly Hills 90210 playing themselves, Macy Gray, Tom Waits and even Jerry Springer, though the episode of his show here is far duller and more earnest than the real thing. Walken is, inevitably, the only one to make much of an impression, playing a reality TV producer who wants to make Domino a star. He’s described as having the attention span of a ferret on crystal meth, probably an adequate metaphor for the film as a whole. It lacks the patience to stay with and develop any of the characters, so sniffs around them for two minutes, before scurrying off to find someone else instead.

I should probably comment on how close the film is to the real story of Domino Harvey: not very. She was the daughter of Laurence Harvey (star of the original The Manchurian Candidate) and his fashion-model wife. She was expelled from multiple schools as a child and is rumoured to have tried her hand at modelling, though the evidence for this is questionable; certainly, the catwalk catfight shown in the film appears to be an outright invention. She was, indeed, a bounty hunter, albeit not for long – maybe a couple of years, around 1994-1995. That’s about where the film and truth part company. In sad, actual fact, Harvey had been fighting with chemical abuse issues for years, and was found dead of a drug overdose in June 2005, while awaiting trial for distributing meth.

It doesn’t seem as if the life of a supermodel turned bounty hunter would be in much need of embellishment. But I guess when you sign Richard Kelly, the writer of Donnie Darko, for your script, you’re not looking for cinema verite. That said, this still seems like a wasted opportunity, relegating Domino, who should have been the focus of the film, into just another sidelight. Hell, even the impressive skill with nunchakus, demonstrated earlier on by Knightley, is largely abandoned. Scott’s earlier Man on Fire was much more successful, as it stuck with Denzel Washington’s character throughout, and a similar approach here would have paid dividends. In fact, the plot there, where a bodyguard hunts relentlessly for a kidnapped little girl, would have acquired an entirely new set of resonances with a woman playing the bodyguard. Memo to Scott: if you’re going to base a film on someone’s life, and still make stuff up for it, please use the opportunity to enhance, rather than distract from, the subject matter.

Dir: Tony Scott
Stars: Keira Knightley, Mickey Rourke, Edgar Ramirez, Lucy Liu

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