Brian De Palma has made a number of great films: Carrie, Dressed to Kill and Blow Out chief among them. He's also made some underappreciated gems (Phantom of the Paradise, Casualties of War), some box office blockbusters (The Untouchables, Mission: Impossible), and a few undeniable turkeys (The Bonfire of the Vanities, Mission to Mars, Femme Fatale, etc.) The thing is, even his duds are interesting because he's so invested in trying something new. De Palma's latest, Domino, is the worst film of his career and, a few sequences aside, even he seems bored by it.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (in a bland, uninspired performance) plays Christian, a police officer in Copenhagen. During an assignment, his partner Lars (Soren Malling) is killed by a Libyan immigrant named Ezra Tarzi (Eriq Ebouanry) with terrorist ties. He consequently teams up with another cop, Alex (Carice van Houten), to bring the guy to justice. Guy Pearce plays Joe Martin, a CIA agent who is blackmailing Ezra to trap ISIS members. The individual missions of Christian and Joe repeatedly collide.
Domino is a mess right from the start. Sloppy character introductions frequently make it difficult to figure out who some of the people are and how they're connected to one another. Even when we have the gist of it, the movie shows no interest in developing the relationships. We're supposed to believe Christian and Lars are close friends, but all we see is them briefly getting coffee together and having dinner at Lars's house. Similarly, Alex later reveals a personal connection to Lars, which is pretty significant. The screenplay by Petter Skavlan, though, does absolutely nothing with it. The connection is thrown in simply to make it seem like Alex has more than one dimension (which, to be fair, none of the characters do).
The plotting is even worse. Domino feels like it can't decide whether it wants to bore or confuse you more. Jumping erratically from one barely-explained plot point to the next robs the story of any tension it might have generated. A terrorism-based thriller should be tightly constructed, with each new scene adding to the suspense. In this case, it appears as though gigantic chunks of story have been ripped out, leading to semi-incoherence and a distinct lack of energy.
Take off the end credits and Domino runs a mere 82 minutes. It is quite possible that 1.) De Palma's cut was savaged by the producers and/or distributor; 2.) the obviously meager budget prevented him from achieving his desired scope; or 3.) both. Whatever the cause, the film sluggishly moves along, never pulling everything together in a way that's even remotely logical.
De Palma does manage to include a couple of his signature flourishes. There's a nifty split diopter shot as Ezra prepares to attack Lars, a split-screen sequence in which a terrorist shoots up a film festival, and a slow-motion build-up to an act of terrorism at a crowded bullring. Because the story is so poorly-constructed, these effects stand out as “De Palma being De Palma” rather than things that contribute meaningfully to the story.
With dull performances to boot, Domino is a near-total bust. The whole picture feels slapped together. Brian De Palma has made a career out of films that, good or bad, have obviously been carefully, thoughtfully assembled. Something went very, very wrong this time.
out of four
Domino is rated R for strong violence, some language and brief nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.