Crossing the style of "Natural Born Killers"-era Oliver Stone with the shifty, non-chronological framework of Quentin Tarantino's work, "Domino" is, at once, an overblown, frantic, giddily exciting, eye-popping exercise in visual artistry over internal three-dimensionality. An abstract biopic of the late Domino Harvey that takes the essence of her person to weave a more often than not fictional tale involving bounty hunters, FBI agents, television producers, reality shows, the mob, a double-crossing heist, the Department of Motor Vehicles, a freaky mescaline-induced experience, and two key actors from TV's "Beverly Hills 90210." The film is so fascinatingly complex that it would take multiple viewings to unravel all of the characters and their roles within the story, but at the same time doesn't do much digging into Domino Harvey herself. If the protagonistand most of the other people crossing her pathremain only skin-deep, Tony Scott's (2004's "Man on Fire
") aesthetically brilliant direction mostly makes up for it.
The plot is all over the place (in a fresh way, rather than frustratingly), but the bulk of the story lies with 20-year-old Domino Harvey (Keira Knightley) as she is being questioned by psychological investigator Taryn Miles (Lucy Liu). From there, time rewinds back to her days as a bored teenager living amidst the wealth of Beverly Hills (her father was actor Laurence Harvey). Put off by the artificiality of the so-called "90210" generation and desperately in need of a little fun and danger in her life, Domino drops out of college and breaks her contract as a Ford model to train as a bounty hunter. Teaming up with veteran hunters Ed (Mickey Rourke) and Choco (Edgar Ramirez), whom she meets at a seminar on the subject, the three of them soon set off to put their lives on the line for major cash rewards as they seek out wanted criminals.
Their rising notoriety sparks the attention of attention span-deprived producer Mark Heiss (Christopher Walken) and assistant Kimmie (Mena Suvari), who promptly cast them in a reality show for the WB called "Bounty Squad," to be hosted by "Beverly Hills 90210" alums Brian Austin Green and Ian Ziering (playing themselves). As they hit the road with cameras trailing them, Domino, Ed and Choco soon become embroiled in a dirty heist involving four mystery figures in First Lady maskspossibly a setup by the FBI.
Impeccably designed by screenwriter Richard Kelly (2001's "Donnie Darko
"), "Domino" defies being placed in any one genre. It is a biopic, but in the loosest sense of the term since the time period and many of the details in Domino's life have been altered. It is also, usually simultaneously, a crime drama; heist thriller; a gunfire-and-explosion action film; a pitch-black comedy, and a wry satire of the television industry. With barely a moment to pause and take a breath, the picture zooms forward, its spellbinding cinematography by Daniel Mindel (2005's "The Skeleton Key
") and frenetic editing by Tom Ciccone, William Goldenberg and Christian Wagner taking on the feel of being on an acid trip. If "Domino" isn't the winner of most edits within a single movie in history, then it is definitely a runner-up. Whereas this ADD style of filmmaking can be exhausting when done wrong (as is the case, for example, with most of Jerry Bruckheimer's releases), director Tony Scott gets it just right through sheer technical innovation, using flash cutting, hand-held cameras, and even superimposed dialogue written out over scenes in clever ways.
The boundless energy of the film is its greatest strength, but it also excels in its intricate storytelling web, which demands that the viewer pay attention. Swerving back and forth in time and between different groups of characters, their purposes not always readily uncovered until later developments and revelations, "Domino" is never less than involving, even if it isn't as resonant on an emotional level. The expansive ensemble of characters are intriguing on their own, thanks to one of the most diverse and creative movie casts of the year, but they are only sketchily developed. This is acceptable for the supporting players, but disappointing when it comes to the treatment of Domino Harvey herself. Although her childhood is briefly touched upon and her spirit comes into focus the longer the film plays out, we never really get to see exactly what makes her tick. Because of this, the visuals take the lead over a firm investment in the plot's progression and characters' fates.
As mentioned, the actors onboard couldn't be a more wildly eclectic mix, but all of them play their parts so well that none need by criticized. Keira Knightley (2005's "The Jacket
") makes for a fetching, believably tough-as-nails Domino Harvey, a young woman who needs a thrill in her life to make it feel meaningful for herself. Mickey Rourke (2005's "Sin City
") continues his upward career spiral with another self-assured, ultra-cool turn as fellow bounty hunter Ed. Also making a major impression is Mo'Nique (2004's "Soul Plane
"), an unequivocal dramatic revelation in the key role of DMV worker Lateesha Rodriguez. Best known for her UPN sitcom work and bit parts in throwaway comedies, Mo'Nique is so effective in a layered award-worthy turn that it is her character that almost becomes the film's heart and soul. "Beverly Hills 90210" stars Brian Austin Green and Ian Ziering also do strong, unexpected work as the hosts of Domino's reality series, who end up turning into "celebrity hostages" for reasons best left to be discovered.
As grandly successful as the movie's style is, the anxious pacing also is the culprit in keeping our heroine at a relative distance to the audience. It is a double-edged sword, to be sure, but a problematic area nonetheless that makes "Domino" more of a top-notch stylistic experience than a dynamic and emphatic character study. No matter. Director Tony Scott and screenwriter Richard Kelly have worked near the heap of their abilities to conceive of a biography unlike any other ever put to film. In the end, its quirky tone, pervasive violence, colorfully adult language, and unconventional narrative prove to be notably more substantial than if "Domino" were just another paint-by-numbers, watered-down version of "Ray
" with bounty hunters. Domino Harvey may have tragically passed away only months ago (in what has been called an accidental overdose), but "Domino" leaves a cinematic legacy that would have made her proud.