Reel Opinions

Monday, October 31, 2005


"This is based on a true story. Sort of." - Disclaimer that appears at the very beginning of the film.

You certainly have to admire director Tony Scott's honesty with those opening words. The only way I could believe that Domino, a film based on the life of a young female bounty hunter, was based on a true story is if we were looking at the life of the woman through the eyes of someone high on just about every illegal substance imaginable all at once. Domino is billed as a bio-pic, but it really isn't. Actually, the movie doesn't really fall under any genre. What it is, really, is a total and non-stop bombardment on the senses - something that director Tony Scott (Man on Fire) seems to excel in. Well, this movie makes some of his past efforts seem like textbook examples of coherent storytelling. Domino is a loud, headache-producing, non-stop bombardment, and it will leave you exhausted and angry. It's not so much a movie as it is a cinematic pinata that's been busted open and random images explode upon the screen for 2 hours straight in a losing battle to tell a coherent story. Watching Domino, you almost get this mental image of Dennis Hopper's character from Speed in the editing room, threatening to blow up Scott if the movie drops below 50 images a minute.

This highly fictionalized account of bounty hunter Domino Harvey (who in real life died earlier this year from an overdose) follows the woman from her childhood years to the height of her bounty hunter days. The daughter of actor Laurence Harvey (best known for his role in the original Manchurian Candidate film with Frank Sinatra), Domino was born into a life of wealth. After her father passed away when she was young, her mother moved her to California. Domino quickly grew bored of the youth CA lifestyle (the "90210 generation", she calls it), and decided to rebel in her own way. While other kids her age were driving fast cars and attending parties, she was training herself in martial arts weaponry.

After the now young-adult Domino (played by Keira Knightley) is kicked out of college for her violent behavior, she has a chance meeting at a seminar about bounty hunting with two veterans of the game - Ed (Mickey Rourke) and Choco (Edgar Ramirez). They are skeptical of her at first, due to her age and somewhat delicate form, but Domino quickly proves that she has the stuff it takes, and the three form almost a bizarre family unit as they travel the nation, tracking down various criminals. Their exploits eventually catches the attention of a fast-talking TV producer at the WB network (Christopher Walken) who wants to do a reality show based mainly on Domino, and hosted by former Beverly Hills 90210 stars Ian Ziering and Brian Austin Green, who follow them around with a camera crew during their jobs. Of course, once the camera crew is present, things quickly go downhill when the three hunters are involved in a messy heist situation that may be set up by the FBI, and involves a crime boss, some mysterious fellons disguised as former First Ladies, and a powerful Las Vegas hotel owner (Dabney Coleman).

That's really all the plot I got out of Domino. That synopsis may fool you into thinking that the film has a point, but it really doesn't. The entire running time is simply an excuse for Tony Scott to throw everything but the kitchen sink up on the screen to distract us from the story. Slow motion, sped up film, black and white, old grainy images...Just about every film trick except for animation is used at one point or another, and often with very little rhyme or reason. The images come fast and furious, often allowing very little time for our brains to register it all. This movie is one big distraction from beginning to end, and when you've got a movie with a complex plot that deals with numerous betrayals, double crosses, and even tripple crosses, that's not a good thing. The entire movie plays like you're watching a crime story on TV while under the influence of illegal narcotics. I've never tried any kind of drug, but after seeing Domino, I have a pretty good idea as to what it must be like being high.

The movie fails to slow down and concentrate on its plot, and therefore, the characters are underdeveloped and unrelatable. That's a shame, because there seems to be some interesting characters here. I liked what little was hinted at in the almost father-daughter relationship between Domino and her mentor, Ed. Mickey Rourke and Keira Knightley have good chemistry together, so it's a shame that the film is constantly trying to pull away our attention with non-stop camera tricks. A bio-pic is supposed to bring us into the world of the person. The characters are shallow, the relationships near non-existent, and quite frankly, I think that's the way Tony Scott wanted it. He directs the story like a film student run amok, and offers no apologies whatsoever. I don't know, maybe I didn't get his "vision". I'm assuming that vision meant not even attempting to tell a coherent story. As if the headache-inducing editing wasn't confusing enough, the film's storyline is told out of sequence just to throw us off even more. The story constantly jumps around to the point that it feels like 3 or 4 different movies edited together.

It's a shame that this movie refuses to slow down and allow us to admire it, because there is some good stuff here. The performances are very good for the most part. Keira Knightley successfully plays out of type as the tough-talking Domino Harvey. During the few scenes she's actually able to express emotion without Tony Scott trying to distract us, she's very believable, and comes across as a likable tough heroine. The movie features a number of C-list celebrities, mostly in walk-on roles. Everyone from Lucy Liu to Jerry Springer pops up here. No one quite leaves the impression that Knightley does, however, except for Mickey Rourke who after this and Sin City, is having a very good year in terms of performances. I also sort of liked the look of the film. It's appropriately gritty in appearance with its primary colors being orange, black, and green. Some scenes have a dirty, overexposed look to them, almost as if the film had been left out in the sun too long. If there was a point to the artistry, I'd admire it even more.

I knew very little about the real life Domino Harvey before walking into this movie. Now that I've seen it, I feel I know even less. All I do know is that Tony Scott has made a movie that should come with a free sample packet of asprin with each ticket. I know quite a few people who really liked this movie, because it was "different". Well, it's not enough to be different, you've gotta have something to say as well. Domino has very little to say, and that's a shame. Her life story probably would have made a very interesting movie. Too bad this isn't one.

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