The Movie Waffler New to Amazon Prime Video - DOMINO | The Movie Waffler

New to Amazon Prime Video - DOMINO

domino review
A Copenhagen cop is drawn into the world of global terrorism.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Brian De Palma

Starring: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Carice van Houten, Guy Pearce, Eriq Ebouaney, Søren Malling

domino poster

There was a time when a new Brian De Palma movie was greeted with a fanfare, but that era has sadly long passed. Now his movies sneak up on even the most clued in of cinephiles, usually quietly disappearing into the VOD void. That's the case with his latest, Domino, which arrives under the radar amid talk that De Palma has essentially disowned the cut being released following disagreements with his financiers. Whether the filmmaker had any input into the version viewers can now see is unclear, but make no mistake, this is very much a Brian De Palma movie, his best work since 2002's under-appreciated Femme Fatale.

Like that movie, Domino sees De Palma plying his trade in continental Europe, where he's always been more appreciated than in his homeland. Copenhagen is the initial setting for this continent hopping thriller. That's where we find cops Christian (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Lars (Søren Malling) responding to what seems like a routine domestic disturbance. At the location, an apartment in a tower block, they discover a Libyan man, Ezra (Eriq Ebouaney), with blood on his shoes and a fresh corpse with clear signs of torture. Ezra slits Lars' throat and flees, with Christian pursuing until he is knocked unconscious, just before seeing a group of mysterious men abduct Ezra.

domino review

Teaming up with fellow cop Alex (Carice van Houten), who seems oddly emotionally invested in avenging Lars, Christian attempts to track down Ezra. Unbeknownst to the Danes, Ezra has been nabbed by CIA agent Joe Martin (Guy Pearce), who is using him to track down Salah Al Din (Mohammed Azaay), an ISIS terrorist responsible for a series of attacks in North Africa and now Europe.

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Like so many unappreciated American auteurs have been forced to do in the past, De Palma now finds himself scrounging around Europe looking for handouts from appreciative investors. As such, he's now working with budgets a fraction of those he once commanded in Hollywood. On a surface level, Domino might suffer from its limited funds (a series of photos found on a cellphone look like they were knocked together on a cheap app), but De Palma's impeccable visual storytelling papers over such cracks, and anyone in tune with his Hitchcockian sensibilities will find themselves gripped within minutes.

domino review

Domino is bracketed by two set-pieces that prove he hasn't lost his innate awareness of how to use editing, camera movement and spatial relations to generate suspense. Nodding to Vertigo, the movie opens with a chase across rooftops, with night-time Copenhagen, as photographed by Pedro Almodovar's regular cinematographer José Luis Alcaine, looking not unlike the nocturnal French Riviera of To Catch a Thief. The movie climaxes with a sequence at a Spanish bullring that recalls both the Liberty Bell set-piece of De Palma's own Blow Out and the Royal Albert Hall climax of The Man Who Knew Too Much. Many have tried to imitate Hitchcock over the years, but De Palma proves here he's still the best at parroting the Master of Suspense.

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Clocking in at a brisk 89 minutes, with not an ounce of fat on its narrative, Domino unspools like a throwback to the golden age of b-movie filmmaking, the '40s and '50s, when filmmakers could weave entire narratives in runtimes barely longer than the average length of a TV episode. Some critics have complained that De Palma's characters here are thinly sketched, but such a complaint is missing the point. This isn't a character study, it's a rollercoaster suspense movie. Besides, if you pay attention and keep your eyes open you'll see how De Palma uses images to tell us all we really need to know about his characters.

domino review

Lay out its plot and Domino won't win too many awards for originality. It's a pretty generic espionage thriller, but in De Palma's hands it's a triumph of storytelling over story. There are moments where De Palma conveys more essential information in a simple 45 degree pan of his camera than some of his modern successors could manage in an elaborate and overbaked montage or a showy one-take tracking shot. Forced to apply such smart, economical storytelling arguably results in a more well crafted movie than De Palma might have given us with a more indulgent budget.

What's most interesting about Domino is what's going on below the surface here. As is increasingly the case in real life, the terrorists here are obsessed with capturing their atrocities on camera. Like Paul Schrader's The Canyons, Domino is another case of a former Movie Brat laying out his fears that a new reality-based filmmaking is making him irrelevant. Here, the ISIS leader Salah Al Din behaves for all the world like a movie director, coordinating those foolish enough to martyr themselves in such a way that results in capturing the most cinematic images with the cameras he equips them with. In The Man Who Knew Too Much, an assassin is ordered to wait until the crashing of an orchestra's symbols before firing his shot. In Domino, a suicide bomber is made to wait until a drone reaches the position where it can frame the optimal shot of his death and the resulting explosion. It's up to Domino's protagonists to essentially prevent a filmmaker from plying his trade. The question then is whether De Palma views his movie's antagonist as representative of the YouTubers who pose a threat to traditional filmmaking (one of Salah Al Din's targets is a film festival, the one remaining place where auteurs can truly find an audience), or representative of himself, an anti-authoritarian filmmaker thwarted by a system he can no longer fit within.

Domino is on Amazon Prime Video UK now.