Brian de Palma’s underfunded terrorism thriller Domino, his latest film, serves precisely one purpose; proving just how much we currently don’t need his films. We don’t need to imagine such a violent voyeuristic world when we live in one. Filled with bad CGI, a half-empty bullfighting ring, and awkward dialogue, this poorly executed thriller is perhaps one of De Palma’s worst creations.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, fresh off his role as Jaime Lannister from the hit HBO series Game of Thrones is Christian, a Copenhagen police officer. He and his partner Lars (Søren Malling) respond to a domestic violence call late one night, which turns out to be a horrific and mangled torture-murder scene. As they explore the scene, the pair stumbles upon massive storage of explosives and killer Ezra Tarzi (Eriq Ebouaney), who escapes his handcuffs and slits Lars’ throat before fleeing out the window. Christian — who had earlier made the mistake of leaving his gun in his apartment — pursues Tarzi in a cheap-looking chase scene across city roofs, only for Tarzi to be abducted by a team of CIA operatives (led by Guy Pearce) before Christian manages to capture him. Ezra, who is determined to destroy the ISIS unit that murdered his father, is employed, or to be exact, blackmailed, by the American government, who wants him to continue on his vengeance streak.
The story then centers back to Lars, who had been in the hospital on life support until he succumbed to the severity of his wounds. Christian, grief-stricken over this event, decides to take the path of vengeance along with his new partner Alex (Carice van Houten), who has closer ties to Lars than Christian realizes. Both officers chase the terrorists and Tarzi on their own through several similar-looking Western European countries with no regard for jurisdiction or the real difficulties this would entail. Not that the plot seems to mean much in this tonally strange, poor semblance of a film. Though all of the actors give mostly compelling performances, it’s more than clear that they would have performed better with more enticing material, mainly when you take a glance at some of Coster-Waldau and Van Houten’s phenomenal performances.
De Palma attempts to explore the fault within media and technology for allowing terrorism to become accessible. The first attack of the film features a terrorist shooting at the red carpet of a Netherlands Film Festival, with rigged machine gun iPhones, mounted facing either direction to film both her face and her victims. Eventually, she triggers an explosive built into the weapon that blows up herself and the surrounding area. Unfortunately, this is hardly anything new. We are all well aware of the connection between media and violence, though De Palma tries to convince us that its something new by setting Domino in the year 2020. That the death and destruction throughout the world that De Palma has been imagining and creating throughout his career exists.
There is too much of Brian de Palma in the cut we’ve been given to suggest that had he been given more control, the film would have somehow transformed into one last masterpiece. Moreover, despite its failings, there are a few dramatic moments and choices I did truly appreciate. The entirety of Domino felt as though it was holding its breath — waiting for a moment that never happened — not knowing its potential to find tension and life flickered out from its very first moments. Domino is terrible, but more than that, it’s completely unnecessary.
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Jenna Kalishman is a freelance writer and cinephile based in Colorado who often focuses on female and queer perspectives as well as female-led projects. She spends much of her free time listening to Stevie Nicks and re-watching Carol. You can find her on twitter @jenkalish.