REVIEW: Domino (2019)

Release Poster – Saban Films etc.

The following is a review of Domino — Directed by Brian De Palma.

Brian De Palma’s Domino is a crime-thriller that takes place all over Europe. The film follows Christian Toft (played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, “Game of Thrones”), a Danish police officer, as he tries to bring a criminal to justice. After forgetting his gun at home, Christian inadvertently puts his colleague and father-figure, Lars Hansen (played by Søren Malling, “Borgen”), in harm’s way. When, due to the fact that he has misplaced his own firearm, Christian borrows Lars’ gun to investigate a domestic disturbance, Lars is killed by a handcuffed assailant (played by Eriq Ebouaney, “Femme Fatale”). When the, as of yet unidentified, assailant appears to have escaped, Christian and Alex Boe (played by Carice Van Houten, “Game of Thrones”), Lars’ heartbroken and vengeful mistress, leave Denmark to find and apprehend the man responsible for Lars’ death.

It doesn’t happen often that a legendary filmmaker such as Brian De Palma makes a movie in Denmark with a Danish lead actor, no less. So, naturally, I have been looking forward to this movie for quite some time. However, the film, which De Palma began principal photography on back in 2017, has not had a lot of good press. De Palma has, apparently, been very open about his frustrations working with the film’s producers, and it feels a little bit like the film has been swept under the rug, so to speak. I mean, last year, it was released in several countries on Video-On-Demand, but, curiously, not in Denmark. So, imagine my surprise, when the film was released on Netflix in Denmark just the other day. Now, I have finally had the chance to watch a movie that I have been both excited and worried about.

It is just a complete and utter shame that a film with so much potential, such a solid cast, and such a gifted director has, for whatever reason, resulted in a final product this underwhelming. The film has loads of problems some of which may stem from the problems behind-the-scenes, but it also looks like there are some pretty sizable problems with the film that, I gather, have to do with the screenplay (written by Petter Skavlan, “Kon-Tiki”), the film score, and the performances delivered in the film.

To me, the opening of Domino was jarring in more ways than one. For one, I was shocked by the fact that, even though the film was shot in 2017 and 2018 and released in 2019, the film takes place in June 2020. It’s an incredible coincidence that the film was finally released in Denmark mere days or weeks after the film was set. But, to me, the most jarring thing about this film is the fact that in the very first shot of the film, which takes place in wonderful Copenhagen, Danish actors Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Søren Malling speak English to each other. In fact, the only Danish that I heard in the film came from, what I assume to be, extras who played Danish police officers. Look, I get it, Danish is a difficult language to understand, but it just feels wrong that, in a film with several languages, only the Danish characters are robbed of their native language. Though the film, for the most part, takes place in Denmark and features several Danish actors, the most Danish thing about the film may be that Coster-Waldau’s character, in one scene, eats a hotdog and drinks chocolate milk by a hotdog stand, or pølsevogn (as we call them in Denmark), but I digress.

There is a lot more to the story of Domino than what was presented in my outline of the plot. For one, the CIA is involved, and there is also a terrorist subplot. You would be forgiven for forgetting parts of these subplots, though, because the film doesn’t really hold all of its subplots together, make them exciting, or even complete them all. Actually, so much about the characters and the dialogue feels generic and bland that it is tough to really become invested in the plot. There is an overabundance of dissolves, and there are scenes that don’t really go anywhere. The film’s ending even feels hurried. It is tough to know for sure whether the film is incomplete or if it has been cut to shreds with pivotal scenes left on the cutting room floor.

In any case, the film squanders its cast. Carice Van Houten, whose character’s romantic entanglement with Lars is unconvincing, is given basically nothing to work with, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is saddled with an equally bland character. It’s a shame because I can’t think of a more appropriate Danish actor to lead a crime thriller from Brian De Palma than Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and I do wish that his opportunity to work with De Palma would’ve resulted in a better final product. There may also be a problem with overacting, or, at the very least, sometimes the film score from Pino Donaggio overwhelms select scenes so much so that some actors’ choices almost appear unintentionally comedic. However, the one actor who actually gives a thoroughly entertaining performance in this film is Guy Pearce, who plays a CIA agent. Pearce has the best lines, and it looks like Pearce actually had some fun with his character.

“We’re Americans. We read your emails.”

Even if Brian De Palma was so frustrated with the production problems that he’d consider disclaiming any responsibility for the final product, this is clearly his work, and there are flashes of greatness within the otherwise muddled and dull film that, as mentioned, sometimes seems cut to pieces. There is a solid scene with a slow-zoom on Christian’s missing firearm that was so good that it really made me wish the film had made Christian appear even more guilt-ridden about Lars’ death. As you would expect from a De Palma film, there is also a split-diopter shot prior to the film’s first great sequence and, towards the end of the film, he also uses slow-motion to draw out the tension of a pivotal sequence.

In fact, I think there are actually three sequences in this film that elevate the final product for one reason or another. The first of these sequences is probably my favorite. This first sequence is a Copenhagen rooftop chase, which clearly references Hitchcock’s Vertigo, where Christian is chasing the man responsible for Lars’ death. This is an exciting sequence, which is preceded by the aforementioned slow-zoom scene, and, at this point in the film, I thought the film had a lot going for it. It is a shame, though, that the film meanders prior to the second noteworthy sequence. This second sequence is undeniably terrifying. This film sequence is centered around a terrorist attack on a film festival in Amsterdam. In this sequence, iPhones are mounted on a firearm for the purpose of transmitting the violence committed and the terrorist’s reaction. However, although this sequence is probably the most interesting one of the bunch (De Palma seems to be trying to say something about cyberterrorism, the weaponization of the camera, or, possibly even, social media), it is also somewhat tasteless and problematic. This film definitely does not have enough grace to make that sequence work, as it can feel like it is used merely for the purpose of pushing your buttons. The final sequence, which unfortunately precedes a very underwhelming ending, takes place in Spain and has a drone as its centerpiece.

For your average movie, three noteworthy sequences can sometimes be enough, but with Domino, which has a lot of problems, it isn’t enough to save the film. Do you know what is more disappointing than a bad movie? The answer is a bad movie with flashes of greatness. Brian De Palma’s meandering Americanised nordic noir B-movie, Domino, is a sometimes fascinating but mostly frustrating disappointment.

5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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