The first time I watched Tony Scott's Domino the film didn't quite blew me away, nonetheless I was happily surprised to see its relentless stylistic approach. It's not often you come across a Hollywood film that has the audacity to dazzle its audience with style over substance. I was quite curious to see how and if that style had held up over time, so I gave the film a second run. Once again the film managed to win me over, though I couldn't really help but wonder how that reflects on the overall quality of Hollywood's output.
For much of his career, Tony Scott made light, easily digestible yet entertaining Hollywood fare. Halfway through the 00s something clicked though, triggering him to turn up the volume and go all out. Both Man on Fire and Domino stand as outliers in Scott's oeuvre, still going for the same tried and tested storylines put packaging them into a decidedly more modern and outgoing exterior. It's as if Scott tried to carry on the legacy of Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, something I can definitely appreciate.
The film is based on real-life bountyhunter Domino Harvey, who died the very same year Scott's film was released. Together with Richard Kelly (of Donnie Darko fame) Scott condensed her life story into a 2 hour film that revolves around a single case gone wrong. Like most Hollywood adaptations, there is quite some leeway when it comes to the realism of the portrayal, but Scott did consult with Domino and her fellow bounty hunters extensively while producing the film.
The film is set up as a post-event narration, with Domino being questioned by the FBI about a money bust gone awry. It's an easy and useful setup that allows Scott to go through the key events while at the same time filling in the blanks regarding Domino's past when necessary. There's quite a lot of material to go through, with many marginal characters and plot deviations that add little beyond dragging out the running time. Luckily Domino is more about style than it is about substance so the film itself never really feels slow or ill-paced.
Scott says the style of the film was heavily influenced by the excessive cocaine use of the bounty hunters. Whatever excuse works for Scott, I just wish there were more films that were into the visual storytelling on display here. Rapid editing, rampant cameras, a myriad of filters and a harsh oversaturated color palette turn Domino into a visual onslaught that knows no Hollywood equal. It's definitely not for everybody, with many complaining about suffering from nausea (heh) and headaches (myeah) just from watching the film, but I'm definitely in favor.
The soundtrack too is pretty processed, with some of the dialogues receiving an almost sample-like treatement. The music itself consist of pretty basic but effective high-octane tracks, but in combination with the visuals and dialogues it creates a very clear and definite rhythm that reminded me of Pi. Not in the way it actually sounds (as Pi's soundtrack is more electronic-oriented) but definitely in the way the sound fits into the film. I just wish more films would put this much effort in the way the music and dialogue blends in with the rest of the film.
Portraying Domino Harvey is Keira Knightley, a somewhat suprising choice that paid off quite favorably. Based on her other work I wouldn't have given 2 cents for her casting, but she's remarkably edgy and kick-ass when need be. The same can be said about the rest of the cast, especially Rourke (who I usually can't stand) and Christopher Walken. There's a slew of fun cameos too, ranging from Macy Gray and Mena Suvari to Ian Ziering and Brian Austin Green (both of Beverly Hills 90210 fame - playing themselves) and Scott gets bonus points for adding Lucy Liu as the FBI inspector.
Domino is obviously a bit much for most people. If you're hung up on narrative clarity or still reference MTV music videos when valuing a film, I'm pretty sure this is going to be a rather painful experience. From start to finish, Scott keeps the pace high, never putting in any breathers and never dialing back the overall intensity. Domino is an audiovisual trip, but still hooked into the Hollywood DNA. There is a narrative and a strong focus on plot progression, it's just drowned out by stylistic prowess.
Sadly, this was just a little phase for Scott and Hollywood wasn't immediately inspired to follow in his footsteps. Personally though I think it's still one of the few great films to come out of America's big film circus. Domino is loud, bold and in your face, but it's also fun and entertaining while staying clear from Hollywood's usual pitfalls. It's a movie with balls, with a strong female lead and a very clear sense of style. If you're in the mood for something different and you don't mind style over substance, be sure to give this one a chance.