It’s something that has repeatedly happened over the years. Legendary director Brian De Palma released a new movie that was shrugged off as a minor work from the filmmaker despite its singular vision and meticulously crafted set pieces. This spring when De Palma’s Domino was released in select theaters and VOD, I, too, thought the film was a minor work from De Palma that featured two incredible sequences. I can’t believe that I, an absolute De Palma fanatic, made the same mistake that so many others had made. I undervalued a new De Palma flick. Revisiting Domino for its Blu-ray release, I was struck that De Palma has once again made an absolute killer thriller, a cynical film with strong political overtones and the director’s incredible knack for crafting suspense in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock. Simply put, despite what anyone has said, Domino rips.
Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau headlines Domino as Christian, a police officer in Copenhagen. Working with his longtime partner Lars (Søren Malling), the two officers are called to a disturbance in the late hours of the night. It’s there that they encounter Ezra Tarzi (Eriq Ebouaney), whom they mistake as the suspect they’re there to apprehend. There’s a struggle and Tarzi slashes Lars’ throat, leading Christian on a daring rooftop chase of the mysterious man. Little did Christian realize that he’s just stumbled into a deadly game of cat and mouse involving a ruthless CIA agent Joe (Guy Pearce) and an international terrorism run by Salah Al Din (Mohammed Azaay). Complicating matters even further, fellow police officer Alex (Carice Van Houten) wants to join Christian in unraveling the web of lies and murder as she was having an affair with Lars and is pregnant with his child.
The screenplay for Domino by Petter Skavlan taps right into Brian De Palma’s cynicism, especially when it comes to American international interventionism. Look throughout De Palma’s filmmaking career and you see example after example of this robust skepticism about America’s ability to dictate its wishes to the world and Domino fits right in that mold, embodied by the brash, outlandish performance by Guy Pearce. Within the world of Domino, which is set in 2020, the reality of American involvement means that a rather simple murder case becomes increasingly complicated, with the CIA pull string behind the scenes and creating layers of distrust even amongst allies.
The way in which Domino features Islamist terrorists has caused a bit of an uproar because of the stereotypical nature. But De Palma injects a few wrinkles that take the director deeper into what terrorism truly is. He’s not interested in the religious motivations for terrorism, but how technology and visual storytelling can be used to spread the horror. Al Din and his cabal of terrorist cohorts speak of their religious jihad but they’re more focused on creating glossy portraits of terror, sensationalized videos of violence that will dominate news cycles and spread on the internet. De Palma is fascinated to see how easily his beloved visual medium can be utilized to spread evil.
Unfortunately, behind the scenes issues between the producers and De Palma have led to the director to all but abandon his film. The Blu-ray for Domino sadly boasts no special features. While one of the great American filmmakers continues to languish outside of the Hollywood system, he proves once again that when given the resources he can craft a sequence as good if not better than anyone. Domino is another highly cinematic work from Brian De Palma that dives into themes that the director has been exploring throughout his career, going all the way back to his breakthrough hit Greetings in the ‘60s. Time will tell if people finally get around to catching up with Domino, but I have a feeling that De Palma’s latest will build its dedicated cult following as it shows once again the master hasn’t lost his touch.
A highly cinematic, cynical political thriller, Brian De Palma’s Domino was mostly overlooked on its initial release but boasts some incredible set pieces as it explores themes that have fascinated the director throughout his career.