You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: Brian De Palma’s ‘Domino’

Brian De Palma runs on empty, though with a few eye-catching De Palma tics, in a flat terrorist thriller starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as a Euro cop.

Brian De Palma
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Carice van Houten, Guy Pearce, Eriq Ebouaney, Mohammed Azaay, Søren Malling, Paprika Steen.
Release Date:
May 31, 2019

Official Site: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3282076/

Brian De Palma has used the Italian film composer Pino Donaggio on and off for over 40 years, ever since their first (and still greatest) collaboration, “Carrie,” in 1976. Donaggio, with his lushly purple neo-Bernard Herrmann dissonant extravagance, is to De Palma what Angelo Badalamenti has been to David Lynch: a composer of rapturous dread-infused melodies that evoke a kind of meta-romantic Old Hollywood delirium. Yet to hear the unmistakable sounds of yet another lavishly orchestrated Donaggio swoonfest laid over the flat, static expository scenes of the choppy benumbed “international” police thriller “Domino” is to watch De Palma trying to create cinematic fire out of burnt-out match sticks.

There are legendary examples of directors claiming that their work was cut to ribbons by clueless producers: the 1954 George Cukor version of “A Star Is Born” (though in that case, the studio-butchered rendition is actually better), or Jonathan Demme’s “Swing Shift.” But what are we to make of a movie like “Domino,” which De Palma has claimed was taken away from him and re-edited — yet the version that’s been put into theaters, and mostly dumped to VOD, is such a limp assemblage of cop-movie conventions that it’s hard to imagine what any version of this film could have added up to.

An early sequence has a glint of De Palma flamboyance. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, as a beat cop in Copenhagen, gets so caught up in bidding goodbye to his lusty girlfriend that he forgets to take his gun, which the camera slow-zooms in on as if it were the fateful key in “Notorious.” Then, after he and his partner (Søren Malling) answer a call about a domestic dispute, they discover not a violent husband but a terrorist (Eriq Ebouaney) who looks like a late-’60s militant, and who slashes the partner’s throat, at which point Coster-Waldau — abandoning all common sense, but then you could argue he did that when he used his “Game of Thrones” downtime to star in a low-budget De Palma film — pursues the attacker across a treacherously angled roof with clattery tiles that keep slipping off. By the time he’s dangling from a drainpipe, we realize that the entire sequence is just a thin excuse for De Palma to sample “Vertigo.” But in that “Is he really going to go there again?” De Palma way, at least it’s interesting to watch.

Popular on Variety

The drama of not-so-hot pursuit that follows is far from interesting. To be honest, it’s deadly. It’s sketchy and contrived and, at times, incomprehensible, and while it’s possible that the head-scratch factor is the result of the producers’ re-editing, what seems likelier is that De Palma turned in a cut that had the frantic illogic of a movie like “Snake Eyes” (which this one sort of does), and that the money people tried to exert some damage control, which didn’t work, because it seldom works.

Even when we can tell what’s going on in “Domino,” there’s a sense of the tail of De Palma’s intentions wagging the dog of a plot. Guy Pearce, as a CIA heavy whose drawl is used like a ’70s corruption signifier, fastens onto the terrorist (who has a personal agenda) and starts to work with him, but the movie is more interested in what this union represents — the United States is in bed with forces it claims to oppose! Noam Chomsky would watch this and agree! — then in how it plays out logistically. There’s a genre that “Domino” is in, and it’s exemplified by the “Bourne” films. This is like a “Bourne” thriller reduced to a game of paper football.

In addition to that “Vertigo” fanfare, the movie has other De Palma tics, like binocular POV shots (I’m not an expert in underground terrorist technology, but does anyone use binoculars anymore?), or a conversation set in front of a windmill that’s shot to evoke “Foreign Correspondent,” or the one sequence in the movie that I honestly liked: a terrorist (Sachli Gholamalizad), her training complete, goes out to perform her suicide mission — an attack staged at a film festival in Amsterdam that’s shot to look like the red-carpet stairway at Cannes. We get some trademark De Palma split screen: on one side, the terrorist’s face (she looks haunted — a nice touch), and on the other side what she sees and is filming, a first-person-shooter POV image of her machine gun ripping through celebrity swells at a movie premiere. The message is supposed to be that terrorism has become a form of cinema, but only De Palma would combine jihad, video games, and the first mass shooting at a film festival to evoke…what? The apocalypse of cinephilia? Actually, that feeling is evoked well enough by the rest of “Domino.”

There’s one other “vintage” De Palma sequence: the climax set at a Spanish bullfight. The way it’s staged, it could have been just about any packed sporting event, with a terrorist posing as a roving stadium concession salesman counting down to exploding his bombs, as a drone camera hovers to film it all. Here, at last, is the De Palma money shot: the gliding slow-mo, the sensualized anguish of the impending attack, the replay of what he’s been replaying ever since the prom sequence of “Carrie.” As a director, Brian De Palma lives for these sequences, and as much as I’ve complained about his movies over the years, when they’re happening the films are alive. When they’re not happening, you can feel the agony of De Palma going back to the drawing board.

Film Review: Brian De Palma's 'Domino'

Reviewed at Cinema Village, New York, May 31, 2018. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 89 MIN.

Production: A Backup Studio, Saban Films release of a Schønne Film production, in co-production with Zilvermeer Productions, N279 Entertainment, Action Brand, Recalcati Multimedia, Light Industry motion pictures, Beluga Tree, Proximus, with participation of Canal +, Ciné +, in association with Global Road. Producers: Michel Schønneman, Els Vandevorst. Executive producers: Joel Thibout, Jean-Baptiste Babin, David Atlan-Jackson, Peter Garde, Petter Skavlan, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Anne Lindberg, William V. Bromiley, Shanan Becker, Jonathan Saba.

Crew: Director: Brian De Palma. Screenplay: Petter Skavlan. Camera (color, widescreen): José Luis Alcaine. Editor: Bill Pankow. Music: Pino Donaggio.

With: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Carice van Houten, Guy Pearce, Eriq Ebouaney, Mohammed Azaay, Søren Malling, Paprika Steen.

More Film

  • Colombia’s ‘Valley of Souls’ Wins Marrakech’s

    Colombia’s ‘Valley of Souls’ Wins Marrakech’s Etoile d’Or

    The 18th edition of the Marrakech Intl. Film Festival awarded the Etoile d’Or for best film to Colombia’s “Valley of Souls,” directed by Nicolás Rincón Gille. In his acceptance speech the director said: “Colombia is a country that people know very little about. But in this film I try to offer a glimpse of the [...]

  • SAFF Winners 2019

    ScreenSingapore: Philippines Projects Take Top Prizes at SAFF Market

    Projects from the Philippines took away the top prizes awarded Friday at the conclusion of Screen Singapore’s Southeast Asian Film Financing (SAFF) Project Market. The event is part of the Singapore Media Festival. The winners included director J.P. Habac’s musical comedy drama “Golden” about homeless gay seniors who reunite to perform as drag queens to [...]


    'The Favourite' Wins Big At The 32nd European Film Awards

    Yorgos Lanthimos’s “The Favourite” scooped the 32nd European Film Awards, winning best film, best comedy and best actress for Olivia Colman who previously won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Queen Anne in the film. “The Favourite” was leading the nominations along with Pedro Almodóvar’s “Pain and Glory,” Marco Bellocchio’s “The Traitor” and Roman [...]

  • Ed-Skrein-Erica-Rivas-Fernando-Trueba-Lucia-Puenzo

    Ventana Sur 2019: Big New Titles, Argentina-Mexico, Deals, Trends

    BUENOS AIRES   —  The last few years have caught Ventana Sur – Cannes Festival and Market’s biggest initiative outside France – taking place as the industry debated radical change. This year saw the Latin American industries in a state of  transformation themselves, wracked by headwinds – Jair Bolsonaro’s government in Brazil – or looking [...]

  • 'Free Guy' Trailer: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie

    'Free Guy': Ryan Reynolds, Taika Waititi, Jodie Comer Star in First Trailer

    The first trailer for Ryan Reynolds’ “Free Guy” premiered Saturday at the CCXP convention in Brazil. Reynolds stars as Guy, a bank teller and NPC (non-playable character) who discovers he’s living in a video game. In the trailer, hostage situations, buildings being blown up and people shooting guns off in the street is depicted as [...]


    Asier Altuna Preps Basque Historical Drama ‘Karmele the Hour of Waking Together’

    Basque cinema is booming, and director Asier Altuna is part of the vanguard leading it forward. The Spanish filmmaker, behind 2005 Youth Award winner “Aupa Etxebeste!” and 2015 Best Basque Film “Amama” at the San Sebastián Intl. Film Festival, attended this year’s Ventana Sur Proyecta sidebar with his next project, “Karmele, the Hour of Waking [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content