'Domino': Film Review

Courtesy of IM Global
Ranks near the bottom of the pop master's filmography.
5/31/2019

A Copenhagen cop (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) tracks a killer tied to ISIS in the latest film by Brian De Palma.

In his long and influential career, Brian De Palma has done things some might disapprove of. He has encouraged viewers' voyeuristic tendencies, stolen whole sequences (to excellent effect) from film pioneers and often been a king of the brainy, finely crafted guilty pleasure. But he has rarely been guilty of dullness, as he is with Domino, a counterterrorism thriller offering just slightly more excitement than the average TV police procedural. Skipping across Europe on the tail of ISIS bombers and those doing their bidding, it is likely to offend many who keep track of big-screen representations of Islam. But that's assuming they see it, which, given this reportedly troubled production's long path to a modest release, is unlikely.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) plays Christian, a Copenhagen cop whose castle-like bed has sturdy leather turrets strapped to each corner. It's on one of those turrets that, distracted by the naked body of a girlfriend without a name, he accidentally leaves his service pistol when rushing off to work. That mistake will lead to the grievous injury of his partner Lars (Soren Malling) and his subsequent suspension from the police force — that hacky plot device that almost always ensures a hero will work harder on the case he's supposed to leave alone.

Before that happens, he'll meet the bad guy: Ezra Tarzi (Eriq Ebouaney, of Lumumba and De Palma's Femme Fatale), a former soldier and good citizen who appears to have joined an ISIS cell run by Salah Al-Din (Mohammed Azaay). The good guys don't know that Al-Din is holding Tarzi's children hostage, forcing him to be their assassin. This might be a good opportunity for De Palma to treat Tarzi sympathetically, like a Hitchcockian victim of circumstance. But the film displays little interest in his inner struggle, sending him off to find his next target while Christian and another detective, Carice van Houten's Alice, pursue him.

When the film isn't distracting us with some very implausible, poorly depicted love-affair turmoil, it spends time with Al-Din: cookie-cutter scenes in which he talks about "infidels" and prepares followers to carry out suicide bombings. Presumably, what appeals to De Palma here is Al-Din's focus on documenting his jihad with mobile cameras. In one instance, we watch pilots view footage from a drone carrying a bomb into a bullfighting stadium; in another, Al-Din mounts both forward- and backward-facing phones on the rifle his follower carries, capturing a split-screen video of the unfolding carnage and the anxious woman pulling the trigger.

In both cases, we'll note that a younger crop of filmmakers (like Aneesh Chaganty, in Searching) has surpassed its elder in wringing tension from POV computer screens. Both sequences also offer callbacks to earlier De Palma films: That rifle-wielding woman is killing people on the red carpet of a film festival, recalling the Cannes-set crimes of Femme Fatale; activity watched from afar at that stadium reminds us of Snake Eyes, whose action centered on a boxing arena. Unfortunately, these and other comparisons serve Domino very poorly.

In addition to deja vu set pieces, stylistic elements remind us we're watching a De Palma film: split-focus diopter shots, canted angles and POV camerawork; a Pino Donaggio score accompanying jump cuts of progressively tighter close-ups on objects of dramatic significance. (Though when that dramatic object is a dangling USB cable, it's hard not to look like you're parodying your own style.) The tics are there, but the technique lacks finesse, especially in the bullfight-bombing sequence that should have been a showstopper. It's easy to imagine how problems with financing, say, might have kept De Palma from executing his vision satisfactorily here. It's harder to understand what drew him to this stale story in the first place, and to Petter Skavlan's unimaginative script.

Production company: Schonne Film
Distributor: Saban Films
Cast: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Carice van Houten, Guy Pearce, Soren Malling, Thomas W. Gabrielsson, Eriq Ebouaney, Mohammed Azaay
Director: Brian De Palma
Screenwriter: Petter Skavlan
Producers: Michael Schonnemann, Els Vandevorst
Executive producers: Jean-Baptiste Babin, Tara Finegan, Peter Garde
Director of photography: Jose Luis Alcaine
Production designer: Cornelia Ott
Costume designer: Charlotte Willems
Editor: Bill Pankow
Composer: Pino Donaggio
Casting directors: Des Hamilton, Gro Therp

Rated R, 88 minutes