Domino was mostly abandoned by director Brian De Palma after clashes over the final cut with the production studio, so it’s unfair to blame him for it. “Blame” may be a strong word to level at anyone responsible for the final results. The mystery-thriller starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Carice van Houten and Guy Pearce is one of the most inept films of 2019. It’s also the one most likely to find life on the cult circuit after a few years like The Room or Birdemic.
Maybe there is value in a movie so poor it finds life outside its usual box-office trajectory. Let’s be honest: Had De Palma’s film found its way to the surface, it might have boosted the careers of everyone involved but otherwise sunk below the surface — just another movie about cops, terrorists and double-crosses playing in an art theater for two weeks in June. Eventually it might show up in a $7 bin at Walmart. In this form, it’ll show up at Walmart much faster — but with the benefit of certain viewers having enjoyed its odd dialogue, constant car scenes, endless characters munching on food, and downright narrative incoherency.
“Oh, Domino? That’s terrible, you have to see it for yourself.”
In three years, more casual viewers will have seen and enjoyed Domino than most of De Palma’s older, more timeless works. This isn’t a value judgment, or meant to denigrate the man’s storied career. But it’s worth contemplating what Domino contributes to the world of cinematic enjoyment. It’s easy to say, “This is a piece of shit, why would anyone watch it?” or use this as an opportunity to dunk on De Palma or members of the cast, all of whom clearly did the best with which they were given. Much harder is to admit that ultimately Domino is a film that will eternally persist at discount stores because it’s just fundamentally watchable in a casual way.
There has been basically no mention of the plot in this review because the plot is just beside the point altogether. Coster-Waldau plays a cop whose partner is murdered. He has to find the culprit while saving his own life. The story is quickly lost anyway, amidst endless scenes of Coster-Waldau and van Houten talking as they drive from place to place. Pearce also chews scenery, affecting a Texan accent for a character who might as well be named “FBI Agent 1.” The character’s name is Joe Martin; same difference.
At 89 minutes the movie is barely feature-length. Sequences are cut together with the most tenuous rationale. The editing, more than anything, just puts Domino on a special level of poor that keeps the interest piqued. What will happen next? What footage did they manage to get into the can that can suitably follow whatever dramatic moment is happening onscreen? Forget the murder mystery: All the tension is whether or not Domino can keep going moment to moment. Like scrolling through a list of fail videos. You know you should watch something better. Hell, you’ve spent thousands of dollars accumulating a collection of Criterions or something. And yet… and yet … maybe just one more clip of some dude smashing his nuts on a handrail first.