In a year when filmmakers Nicolas Pesce (Piercing) and Richard Shepard (The Perfection) have offered their own entertaining takes on the lurid Brian De Palma-style thriller, it’s especially disappointing for De Palma himself to come up with something as dreary and stilted as Domino, a poorly written, stiffly acted, cheap-looking crime drama that’s getting exactly the kind of perfunctory direct-to-VOD release it deserves. De Palma has been vocal about his clashes with producers during filming, and there are rumors that his preferred cut runs nearly an hour longer than the 89-minute version being released this week. But it’s hard to imagine Domino being improved by the addition of more footage, even though the current film suffers from choppy pacing and lurches clumsily from one plot point to the next.
Not that the plot is particularly interesting or original to begin with: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays Copenhagen cop Christian Toft, who stumbles onto an international terrorist cell when responding to what is at first labeled a domestic disturbance. Christian and his partner Lars Hansen (Søren Malling) discover a grisly torture scene, and Christian leaves an injured Lars behind to chase after suspect Ezra Tarzi (Eriq Ebouaney). After Lars dies from his injuries, a guilt-ridden Christian vows to track down Ezra, who’s been snatched up by a shady CIA agent (Guy Pearce with a hammy Southern accent) to use as bait for a dangerous terrorist mastermind.
Christian teams up with fellow detective Alex Boe (Carice van Houten) for a mission that’s partly about justice but mostly about revenge, even as their investigation leads them to a potential massive terrorist attack. Although De Palma is clearly interested in exploring the tactics of and responses to modern terrorism, the villains in this movie (both Pearce’s gleefully amoral CIA agent and the Middle Eastern terrorist he’s tracking) are far too generic to provide any meaningful social commentary, and De Palma, who’s one of the most accomplished visual stylists in film history, seems completely at a loss for a relevant way to frame the action.
The best De Palma can muster is a version of one of his renowned split-screen sequences, in which a terrorist leader watches a dual feed of cameras from one of his disciples’ guns. One camera shows her face, while the other shows the barrel of the gun as she massacres people on a film-festival red carpet. It’s meant to evoke the style of a first-person shooter video game, which is a worn-out comparison already, but the special effects are so bad that initially it’s hard to tell whether the action is supposed to be a simulation or an actual attack. De Palma isn’t responsible for the producers presumably running out of money for things like basic green-screen work in scenes of Christian and Alex driving around, but his ambitions for the movie’s visuals clearly exceeded his meager resources.
There’s a bit of excitement in the ticking-clock finale set in a bullfighting arena in Spain, but when the characters’ motivations are so poorly defined, it’s hard to care about how they’ll end up. Reuniting Game of Thrones co-stars Coster-Waldau and van Houten onscreen should be a strong marketing hook, but they have no chemistry together, and their characters are little more than stereotypes of driven, rule-breaking cops. The flashes of classic De Palma in his trademark Alfred Hitchcock homages (references here include Vertigo and Foreign Correspondent) only highlight how far he’s fallen from his exhilarating career highs. Domino isn’t even entertainingly ridiculous like late-period De Palma fiascoes Femme Fatale or The Black Dahlia or Passion. It’s just another dull, rote straight-to-video thriller, and that’s the worst thing a talent like De Palma could possibly make.