Domino is a well-paced action movie, if a little long, with an unusual feeling of surrealism behind the action. I was happy to see the rare movie with a woman in the lead, kicking butt and not spending all her time fretting over which guy to choose, or hanging in the background as Supportive Wife or Nagging Girlfriend. So I may have been predisposed to like the film, even though I am not a big fan of director Tony Scott.
The movie is very loosely based on the life of the late Domino Harvey (Keira Knightley), the daughter of actor Laurence Harvey, who grew bored with her modeling career and decided it would be more exciting to work as a bounty hunter. In the movie, she joins forces with Ed (Mickey Rourke) and Choco (Edgar Ramirez) on a big-money job that, of course, goes terribly wrong.
The story is told in flashback, as Domino spills her life story to an FBI agent (Lucy Liu). But the flashback is often incoherent and contradictory. Screenwriter Richard Kelly has called it a "fever dream" approach, which allowed him to take a lot of liberties with the timeframe and sequence of events. (The events that inspired this movie took place in the 1990s.)
Just to add to the fun, the team of bounty hunters is followed by a TV production crew taping them for a reality show, headed by Christopher Walken. You know Walken steals every scene he can. The crew also includes two of the cast members from Beverly Hills, 90210, playing themselves: Brian Austin Green and Ian Ziering. In fact, this movie has a strange Beverly Hills, 90210 subtheme running throughout, since it represents everything that Domino despises.
Domino Harvey supposedly complained about the movie before its release (and before her death earlier this year) because it did not mention her bisexuality or her sexual relationships with women. However, it doesn't get into her sexual relationships with men, either. Besides, as I said earlier, I liked seeing a character who was focused on other aspects of her life.
Domino made me wonder just who influenced whom on Tony Scott's 1993 film, True Romance: screenwriter Quentin Tarantino or director Scott? The cartoonish style during parts of Domino reminds me not only of True Romance, but of Jackie Brown and maybe Pulp Fiction. The scenes scored with "Mama Told Me Not to Come" struck me as extremely similar in tone to the "Stuck in the Middle with You" scene in Reservoir Dogs. And one scene is apparently a direct lift (Kelly called it a "fun revisit") from a scene in True Romance.
The acting was, overall, better than I expected. I've never had a particular opinion of Keira Knightley, although she was fun to watch in Bend it Like Beckham and appropriately feisty in Pirates of the Caribbean. But she was excellent in Domino, most convincing as the perpetually angry bounty hunter. As we see at the end of the film, she is much cuter than Domino Harvey in real life (at least Harvey near the end of her life, anyway) ... but that's Hollywood for you.
Mickey Rourke surprised me for the second time this year. I never thought I'd enjoy watching him as much as I did in Sin City and now in Domino. He's a great daddy-substitute character. Another happy surprise was Mo'Nique, playing the slightly crooked Lateesha. Lateesha's appearance on The Jerry Springer Show is unforgettable. And Edgar Ramirez, as Choco, comes out of nowhere to deliver a memorable performance.
Domino plays with time in a way that might remind you of Donnie Darko, which Kelly also wrote. You might see the same scene more than once in the film. The point of view is often muddled: if this is Domino's flashback, how do we explain the scene in the hotel room between Ed and Choco? Ed reveals something Domino doesn't know, that she explains differently earlier in the film.
The "fever dream" plot device doesn't work as well at the beginning of the movie as it does later on, mainly because we don't understand why the movie takes that tone and style. In the beginning, when the movie seems like a straightforward biopic told in flashback, we hear too much exposition from Domino in a voiceover. It isn't until later in the movie when we realize that Domino's exposition is strictly her point of view at the time, so we might want to question the veracity of her statements.
A few scenes are unbelievable. For example, in the sequences at the trailer where the bounty hunters are trying to retrieve stolen money, The Manchurian Candidate is coincidentally playing on a TV in the background-playing a scene in which Domino's late father predominates. Is that what's really happening, or is that what the character is remembering? Later in the film, we wonder if Tom Waits' character even exists. I wonder if Kelly wrote this movie with the assumption that people would see it more than once, as with Donnie Darko?
The movie runs slightly more than two hours, which will naturally seem even longer when preceded by tons of trailers and ads, but it didn't feel that long to me. The movie does feel at times like it's dragging, but fortunately whenever that happens, entertaining character actors appear and raise the energy level: Tom Waits, Mena Suvari, Dabney Coleman, Macy Gray, and as Domino's mom, Jacqueline Bisset. Lucy Liu appears at regular intervals, and I wish she'd had the opportunity to do more than stare impassively at Domino and make empty threats.
I get the impression that Kelly and Scott would have told every character's story during the film if they could have been allowed enough time. Sometimes the movie spends far more time with minor characters than necessary; it's often interesting, but detracts from the main story.
Domino tries to avoid the classic structure and stereotypes of the typical biopic, and generally succeeds. It's more like a surreal trip than a story of someone's life. However, it still doesn't top my favorite recent biopic, Baadasssss! Both movies have one thing in common: they end with a shot of the film's real-life counterpart. I liked seeing the real Domino Harvey one brief time.