Watching Tony Scott's Domino, that new action biopic gargantuan mess with Keira Knightley, reminded me of the time I read William Burrough's notorious free-form Naked Lunch on a transatlantic flight. That was a mistake. I would fall asleep in the middle of sentences, wake up in what I thought was the middle of others, fall asleep again and lose my page, and never know the difference.
Midway through Domino, Christopher Walken's character, a WB reality-television producer, is described as having "the attention span of a ferret on crystal meth." That's what reading Naked Lunch at 19 on a long flight felt like, and that's what the experience of watching a Tony Scott movie feels like these days. I didn't hate Naked Lunch, and I don't hate what Tony Scott wants to do, in theory: He made the bombastic Top Gun and one relatively modest great film, True Romance, but at least since Man on Fire he's thrown restraint to the wind, embracing an ambitious way of looking at routine studio action pictures the way an experimental filmmaker might.
He seems obsessed with elevating junky scripts through sheer technique. Or perhaps, being a formerly sought-after director of television commercials, he's become somewhat jealous of the experimental spirit that has overtaken advertising in the 30 years he's gone Hollywood. It's depressing how music videos, commercials, and, to an extent, series TV are allowed more freedom than studio films. So style has zealously overtaken Scott's scripts.
That's not what bugs me.
It's the lack of sincerity, the scattershot editing that jumps and flashes and speeds up scenes and slows down others without much reason, the product placement in a movie that already feels like a commercial for amphetamines, the unwillingness to let one performance shine when you can layer in a dozen, the subtitling of English just for effect - the condescending notion that because we live in a multi-media-constant-distraction society, coherence is jejune.
Too bad, because there is a compelling real-life weirdness at the core of Domino that Scott approaches with, well, the attention span of a ferret on crystal meth. The Domino of the title is Domino Harvey, played by Knightley but a real person; by coincidence, Harvey died in June from an overdose of painkillers.
She was 35, and if she hadn't left a promising career as a pampered runway model to become a Los Angeles bounty hunter, improbably enough, she would have died as just another footnote to a Hollywood footnote: Her father was British actor Laurence Harvey, best known as the title character in the original The Manchurian Candidate; he was the assassin Frank Sinatra was charged with taking down - in Domino, the Sinatra connection proves so beloved by the Harvey family, you hear them casually mention Frank's name more than Laurence's. (He died of stomach cancer in the early 1970s when his daughter was barely out of infancy; the movie fudges the time frame liberally.)
Maybe that fear of being only known (or rather unknown) as the child of a minor actor is what drove her to such odd lengths. Just don't look here for insight. The movie certainly isn't curious, and finds a dozen reasons to avoid the issue, a fact Scott must have eventually realized. Domino was rich and tended to, and from an early age played with swords and ninja weapons out of boredom. But was she so suffocated by high society she had to be a bounty hunter?
Scott opens the picture with a suggestion he doesn't really care: Based on a true story, "sort of." What's real and what's not is unclear but most of it feels phony. And weirdly irrelevant.
More attention gets paid, for instance, to getting the appropriate sizzle of someone taking a drag off a cigarette than to giving Knightley the reasons to build a character beyond a pout. Domino is so respected in her new profession she becomes part of a sort of bounty hunting A-Team led by Mickey Rourke. But to this is added a reality TV crew, which makes no sense: Why would Domino, anxious to blow off her Hollywood lifestyle, agree to 24-hour TV surveillance? And to that you can add a ho-hum heist involving the mob, women who work at the Department of Motor Vehicles - and to that?
Tack on a trip to Jerry Springer, cast members from Beverly Hills 90210 playing themselves, a long, shrill subplot involving the naming of mixed ethnicities, a statue to Sam Kinison, a gun fight that runs 15 minutes, a bus that rolls down the side of a mountain - a pinata of useless commentary on tabloid culture that makes no connections to the whys and the how-comes of Domino Harvey, who was too busy reinventing herself to watch Jerry Springer.
Contact Christopher Borrelli at: email@example.com
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