Domino (2005) Review

Domino - Keira Knightley

(3.5 STARS)

While not the last film in Tony Scott’s filmography (and thank goodness for that because there’s some gold to come), Domino feels like the movie his entire career has been building toward. Ironically, it’s also one of his least successful films financially, and it was largely panned by critics.

Let’s get this out of the way right now: They’re crazy. This film is inspired lunacy. It’s the perfect vehicle for Scott’s sometimes manic energy, and like he did so many times earlier in his career, he perfectly matches a role with a star’s unique charisma. Keira Knightley was born to play Domino Harvey. I’m just sorry I hadn’t given myself over to it all sooner.

On the surface, the film is a biopic about a model turned bounty hunter who lives and works in the greater Los Angeles area, but Domino is only so much about the real Harvey. Instead, it borrows from the subject’s life to tell a complicated but extraordinarily engaging crime story with more moving parts than his True Romance and Tarantino’s Jackie Brown combined.

Harvey’s closest companions in bounty hunting are her mentor, Ed Moseby (Mickey Rourke), and Choco (Edgar Ramirez), who has a temper that’s only matched by his unrequited love of Domino. They work for a bail bondsman named Claremont Williams (Delroy Lindo), who has a romantic relationship with a woman named Lateesha Rodriguez (Mo’Nique), who works at the DMV and runs her own counterfeit license operation. When the feds bust her and ask for information about her most recent client, a boy named Frances (Kel O’Neill), she tells them he and his friends are about to rob an armored car.

This isn’t true. Lateesha, with the help of some of her coworkers and friends, are about to rob an armored car that belongs to a hotel magnate that Claremont works for. She needs the money to pay for an operation for her granddaughter, and Claremont has already hired Domino’s team to recover the money, pay back his client, and collect the $300,000 finder’s fee for him and Lateesha. It’s a foolproof plan – even with the irritating presence of a reality TV crew, led by former 90210 stars Ian Ziering and Brian Austin Green, who are filming Domino’s every move – but they don’t know that their patsy is the son of a local mob boss. That sends everything to hell.

You’d be forgiven if all this plot made you think Domino is far from the heart of the film that’s named after her, but that couldn’t be further from the case. While not a first-person film, she’s undeniably the film’s protagonist, and a framing device with Lucy Liu (as a federal prosecuter, so there’s no real doubt how this all ends up) puts into context that this is her story and often her first time understanding the complexities of it. We’re also treated to some background biographical information, including her frosty relationship with her mother and the bloody way she gets thrown out of college. A lot of it is pure shock value, but it couldn’t be conceived of (see: screenwriter Richard Kelly) or executed more deliciously.

The film is also very thematically powerful with casual (and often not-so-casual) sexism and an obsession with image all over the text. This is where Knightley’s performance really shines. She does this because it’s something to do, and her laissez faire attitude about it just makes her more appealing to everyone around her. She doesn’t appear to revel in the glory that could be a reality TV show about her, and in not doing so, she inherently becomes cooler, which makes more people desire her and causes her to care even less – or appear to. The screenplay layers seemingly contradictory emotions and traits on top of one another, but it does so with real skill, and Knightley seems to understand these contradictions and embrace them because she’s firing on all cylinders.

There aren’t any other real standouts among the cast. Ramirez is fiery. Rourke plays things pretty cool. Ziering and Green are ingeniously douchy, and Christopher Walken, playing their producer, is simply hilarious. If I have one gripe with the film, it’s that it builds to a scene that Scott has done a few times already, but this is undeniably the biggest version of it to date.

I love Domino, and while I understand there’s a pocket of folks out there who have taken it under their wing, I don’t understand the general consensus that it’s an excess of Tony Scott. That’s sort of the point, and I can’t wait to dig into it more in the future and uncover even more juicy, grimy goodness.

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