On the surface, legendary director Brian de Palma’s latest project, Domino, looks like it has solid potential to be a successful under-the-radar crime drama. With a cast including Nikolaj Coster-Waldeau and Carice van Houten of Game of Thrones fame, as well as the Golden Globe-nominated and Emmy-winning Guy Pearce, one might expect an entertaining thriller with well-developed characters, thought-provoking themes, and a clearly executed story. Unfortunately, Domino falls short in nearly every one of these categories.
The story itself is fairly formulaic, focusing on a terrorist plot in Copenhagen, Denmark, and providing multiple perspectives on the situation from different characters on all sides of the ordeal. Coster-Waldeau portrays Christian Toft, a police officer who finds himself, along with fellow police force member, Alex Boe (van Houten), in the crossfire between an ISIS terrorist conspiracy, the morally ambiguous CIA and case runner Joe Martin (Pearce), and Ezra Tarzi (Eriq Ebouneay), a father and husband out for revenge against ISIS for the murder of his own father. To complicate the matter even further, Tarzi is responsible for the murder of Toft’s partner, Lars Hansen (Søren Malling). Essentially, Toft and Boe, the CIA, and Tarzi all share the common goal of stopping ISIS in one way or another. However, these three parties have issues and conflicts with each other as well. If handled efficiently, the audience might be challenged with a crafty, captivating story, fleshing out the various perspectives and motivations of the groups involved. Yet, the lack of coherent focus, direction, and intent of the narrative was extensively detrimental.
As the main protagonist, Christian Toft was, of course, meant to be the film’s most compelling character. However, Ezra Tarzi was by far more intriguing, developed, and engaging. The decisions made by his character made logical sense based on his emotional affliction, tragic past, and love for his family. Ebouneay produced a respectable effort in this role, with at least a notable output of energy and passion into his scenes. Toft’s character on the other hand felt very one-dimensional, mundane, and indistinctive. Coster-Waldeau barely committed anything unique to the role. The same goes for van Houten’s Alex Boe and Pearce’s Joe Martin. Anybody could have played these roles and presented the same result. They added nothing memorable, captivating, or noteworthy. Certain actions and choices made by these characters were ridiculously erroneous and unrealistic. There were various subplots shoehorned into the equation that only muddled the storyline and subtracted from its coherency. Although they were not helped by the inadequate screenplay and drab, predictable dialogue, Coster-Waldeau, van Houten, and Pearce seemed like they were only there to get their paychecks. This was incredibly disappointing, considering their well-established skills as award-winning actors from other portrayals throughout their careers.
In terms of the film’s technical aspects, there was once again a severe shortage in significantly beneficial qualities. The cinematography was not necessarily poor, but it provided nothing distinguished or expressive to the narrative, the editing transitions felt amateurish and awkward, and the music choices were bizarre and ineffective. The climax of the movie was remarkably clichéd and standard and the attempt to build tension up to this point failed miserably. Audience members will likely be completely numb to the outcome of the story and the resolutions of the characters’ arcs at this point in the narrative. The only figure remotely emotionally-enthralling was Ezra Tarzi, the murderer of Christian Toft’s partner, who was supposed to be an adversary of our intended protagonist.
When examining the potential of this film from the outside −with Brian de Palma at the helm, director of classics such as Carrie (1976), Scarface (1983), Dressed to Kill (1980), and many other notable features − it is difficult to imagine he would undertake a project at this point in his career that would result in overall failure. Yet, this is the general outcome of Domino. All of the necessary aspects were present to produce a memorable film, from the star-studded cast, to the interesting enough story which, despite its conventional nature, still possessed promising qualities if executed efficiently. Regrettably, there was hardly anything memorable, momentous, or consequential about Domino. It is worth a watch for the sake of curiosity alone, with all of the big names attached, but viewers will probably walk away with a bad taste in their mouths that may be cured by rewatching one of de Palma’s classics.
Score: 2 out of 5
*This review was originally published by Elements of Madness on May 27, 2019, at https://elementsofmadness.com/2019/05/27/domino-2019/