Quentin Tarantino is fond of saying that no filmmakers make their best work at the end of their careers. When the quote originated, he was referring to Billy Wilder, but he could just as easily have been talking about Brian De Palma, who made a masterpiece in 2002’s Femme Fatale, but since then has struggled to get anything resembling his best work to screen. The Black Dahlia, Redacted, Passion, and now Domino, his latest and first feature since 2012, present a picture of a filmmaker whose finest days may be behind him. Those hoping that Domino might recapture the brilliance of Blow Out or Dressed to Kill would be better served revisiting Blow Out or Dressed to Kill.
Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays Christian, a police officer in Copenhagen whose partner is wounded when the two of them attempt to bring down a member of ISIS (played by Eriq Ebouaney). He’s turned over to a shady CIA agent (Guy Pearce, hamming it up with a Southern drawl), who enlists the terrorist to bring down other members of ISIS and get justice for the murder of his father. Meanwhile, Christian and a fellow officer (Carice Van Houten) are on a revenge mission of their own, out to take down the terrorist who put their friend—and possibly more—in the hospital.
There are very few bigger fans of Brian De Palma than me, so it brings me no joy to say that Domino is among the director’s worst films. Of course, even saying that much depends on how much we can call this “his” film. The director has more or less disowned the production, stating in the press that it was never his script, that the shoot was a terrible experience, that producers failed to pay the crew, and that it was basically taken out of his hands. De Palma’s cut of the film is rumored to originally have been two and a half hours, offering plenty of room for the multiple subplots to play out and develop before converging in the final act. The released cut of Domino clocks in at 82 minutes before the end credits roll, suggesting a great deal of post-production butchering, more than likely without any input from the director. What we have, then, is what Roger Ebert used to refer to as a “murdered movie.” It’s a shame when a true artist like De Palma has his vision compromised and his movie is murdered, but I can’t review the movie that doesn’t exist. I can’t solve the murder. I can only examine the corpse.
Domino leaves a rather unfortunate corpse, but that’s to be expected when a movie has an entire hour gutted out of it. There are two set pieces, one at the beginning and one at the end, that feel like classic De Palma. The first, following the ill-fated arrest and a chase across rooftops, is so well-constructed that it almost makes the movie worth seeing on its own. The rest of the movie, unfortunately, feels cheap and rushed. It’s nearly impossible to care for characters this ill-defined, and there are jarring tonal shifts between gritty spy thriller and comical melodrama—two tastes that don’t taste great together. There are pieces of what might have been an interesting, ambitious film left on screen, but that’s all they are: pieces.
There are movies that try and just don’t work and there are movies that never really stood a chance. Domino is the latter, thanks to interference and second-guessing and what sounds to have been a catastrophe from start to finish. I will still (and always) be excited at the prospect of a new Brian De Palma movie, but this one fails to reward my optimism. Here’s hoping that the director has at least one more great film in him before deciding to hang it up forever. I would hate for a career as brilliant as his to end on this sour a note.
Movie Score: 2/5