Lite De Palma can still be good De Palma. “Domino” sees the master-filmmaker working with a lesser script yet coming out on top.
The director had made clear his disgust with the making of this film, whose production at one point was in danger of being shut down because of money issues. De Palma still insists many crew members hadn’t been properly paid and says that this “was my first film in Denmark and my last.”
Perhaps because of the production issues, there are moments where the film feels too abrupt in its changes and character motivations and at only one hour and twenty-one minutes, this is the shortest of all De Palma’s thrillers.
In Copenhagen (set in 2020, for some unexplained reason) policemen Christian (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Lars (Soren Malling) are longtime partners who share both a professional and brotherly connection. Called to a domestic disturbance Christian forgets his gun, soon requesting a firearm from Lars after they arrest Erza (Eriq Ebouaney), who they find covered in blood. When Ezra manages to free himself, he cuts Lars’s throat and escapes through a window and over the rooftops leaving Christian to deal with the ramifications of the incident. As Lars clings to life in the hospital, Christian sets out to Ezra, who is now in the hands of the CIA.
Petter Skavlan’s script is too winding and overstuffed, but Brian De Palma uses it to his advantage and gives us a greatest hits, of sorts, that allows the director to showcase his best techniques, making it a fun ride through his styles.
De Palma’s visual acrobatics aren’t as grandiose as they have been but he retains full command over timing and wire-right tension, balancing the psychological weight of his characters with nail-biting moments of suspense.
This student and disciple of Alfred Hitchcock knows how to use his frame, giving us beautifully-crafted shots where our eyes move across the canvas, as there are things happening in the corner or perhaps the sides. There are more than a few moments of “did you see that?” and it is moments such as these where De Palma expertly lays his foundations for true old school suspense.
“Domino” is most successful in its bookending suspense set pieces. The first being the opening where Christian and Lars are called to the apartment building and stumble on Ezra. This sequence is a great primer and has that trademark De Palma slow build where the camera snakes through the proceedings as the music swells and the audience is on the edge of their seat while the danger comes more and more into the light.
The final sequence is classic Brian De Palma. There is a bomb at a public bullfight and terrorists on a roof. Drones and detonators and an ill-advised disguise cause thrilling chaos as Jose Louis Alcaine’s camera presents it all in the director’s signature slow motion and composer Pino Donaggio’s Bernard Herman styled score pulsates while riffing on the classical piece “Bolero.”
DePalma is tenuously at the helm of a film that he struggles to keep in control but, ultimately, he makes most of it count. The few dazzling moments he allows us are justly-executed and right when the film begins to slip, he gives us a reminder of why he is a modern master of suspense who can deliver like no other living filmmaker.