Directed by Tony Scott
Domino is a whirling dervish of coarse, trashy entertainment. It's also a fully loaded road trip through the seedy side of American pop culture.
Natural Born Hunter
It's hard to argue with a movie when the female protagonist, particularly one who's a former Ford model turned nun-chuck wielding bounty hunter, utters the line, "I wish in my heart of hearts we had stopped when my goldfish died."
Given the line's grim context (it comes at a pivotal moment just before the events surrounding a $10 million heist turn extremely grisly), the observation is campy, droll, deadly serious, and winking smart all at once. The rest of Domino follows suit, most of the time.
To backtrack a bit, Domino Harvey was a real-life model, a waif who abandoned the plush life for thrill-seeking opportunities in the bail bond business. In a tragic twist of fate, Harvey was found dead in her bathtub in June; the reported cause of death was a heart attack induced by an overdose of painkillers. At the time of her death, she was facing trial for numerous drug charges and was under house arrest.
According to some in the Hollywood rumor mill, the 35-year-old was upset about the liberties the movie was taking with her life's story. It's an oftentimes sexy, tough, violent, and vulgar piece of work, but apparently it's also a mostly fabricated, whitewashed and toned down abridgement of Harvey's non-fiction exploits.
What may or may not be true in this case is irrelevant, however. The movie openly states from the get-go that it's "based on a true story... sort of."
As it stands, Domino calls to mind something along the line of Fight Club, this time from a female perspective; Domino shuns worldly materialism and struggles with what everyone else says is acceptable behavior, much like Tyler Durden. Domino"s gallows humor also matches David Fincher's masterpiece of modern day male angst.
The role of Domino is no small challenge for any actress to embody. Keira Knightley (Bend It Like Beckham) proves up to the occasion and delivers a knockout performance that successfully transforms her from a sweet girl playing the damsel in distress, as in Pirates of the Caribbean, to a tough-as-nails chick who would much rather take care of herself than allow a man to have the satisfaction.
Harvey was raised in the Notting Hill area of London, but her formative years lacked the cozy, romantic ambience of a Julia Roberts/Hugh Grant movie. The death of her actor father Laurence Harvey (John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate) when she was 4 years old only further contributed to her feelings of alienation.
After moving to Los Angeles and still in search of her proper place, Domino chose a career path that allowed her to indulge in her penchant for picking fights. She's not afraid to die and the girl just wants to have fun, so, in the movie's rendition of history, she joins forces with the exceedingly experienced Ed Mosbey (Mickey Rourke, Sin City) and the exceedingly off-kilter Choco (Edgar Ramirez, El Don).
Their Winnebago-driving chauffeur is an Afghan nicknamed Alf (Riz Abbasi, Hamlet). Supposedly he once ate a cat and since his real name is too hard to pronounce, they dubbed him after the cat-eating alien ALF, who graced TV screens in the '80s.
The American psychos find themselves embroiled in a sordid tale involving the Las Vegas mafia, the Stratosphere, con men, the WB network, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and even a Sam Kinison memorial.
Fear and Loathing
Adding edginess to the film is a jittery, montage-laden photographic style by Daniel Mindel (The Skeleton Key) that at times features bleached out imagery while other scenes explode in over-saturated colors, particularly interrogation scenes between Knightley and Lucy Liu (Charlie's Angels) that maximize the green and yellow portions of the spectrum.
Normally, such a display of non-stop finesse and style would be used to cover up an empty script. Here, the manic stylings serve the material well. Harvey's was a frantic, frenetic world and Domino deftly captures the chaos in both its story and its presentation. It's likely, though, that many will be distracted by the film's over-the-top techniques and miss the truly smart movie under the gloss.
In addition to telling an action/adventure tale of one girl gone madly wild, a good portion of the screenplay by Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko) serves as a scathing satire of American culture, pop and otherwise.
Poor Beverly Hills takes the brunt of the salvos, particularly Beverly Hills 90210 and its one-time stars, Brian Austin Green and Ian Ziering. The duo gamely take on the roles of "celebrity hostages" and at one point clearly delineate why they're there: People don't kill other people when celebrities are around.
Reality TV gets skewered via over-the-top performances from Christopher Walken (Batman Returns), who chews up the scenery as a gung-ho producer of a proposed series called Bounty Squad, and Mena Suvari (American Beauty) as his nerdy assistant.
Domino plumbs the depths, finding humor in morbid scenes involving a tattooed severed limb and also the more obvious punching bag that is the king of sleaze himself, Jerry Springer. The instigator of so much that is wrong with TV today interviews a guest (Mo'Nique Imes-Jackson, Soul Plane) who figures into the aforementioned $10 million heist.
In a bizarre move, she uses Springer as a platform to demand recognition of additional minority classes such as "blacktino," "chinegro," and "japanic." Her hope is to get a book deal out of her tirade; not so ironically, that sequence also manages a quick bitch slap to DeVry University, the diploma mill.
At the other end of the spectrum, Tom Waits, the offbeat rock star and part-time actor, contributes a marvelous performance as a minister who eerily links Domino's past to her present. Other big name appearances include rocker Macy Gray and the always reliable thespians Dabney Coleman, Jacqueline Bisset (as Domino's mother), and Delroy Lindo.
Calling Domino Tony Scott's best movie doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement. But the director of movies such as Top Gun and The Last Boy Scout finally has made a movie that's the complete package and one that compares favorably to his brother Ridley's more celebrated work.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.