Brian De Palma introduced audiences to Tony Montana in 1983, Sean Connery’s comeback in 1987, and Ethan Hunt in 1996. Now, in 2019, De Palma is back and introducing audiences to a sometimes bizarre, offensive, somewhat satirical depiction of ISIS and Guy Pearce in the CIA.
Opening with a buddy cop-ish situation, Copenhagen-based police officers, Christian Toft (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Lars Hansen (Soren Malling), are in pursuit of Ezra Tarzi (Eriq Ebouaney), but of course, the bad guy routinely tries to escape – surprise! Having been apprehended, Toft leaves Tarzi in the hands of Hansen, enabling him to search the suspects living quarters, but oh no, Tarzi manages to escape from the grip of Hansen leaving him severely injured. Attempting heroism, Toft pursues Tarzi across rooftops and all sorts, ultimately leading to the latter falling into the hands of the CIA.
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Lead by Guy Pearce’s Joe Martin, the CIA are holding Tarzi’s family captive. In doing so, Martin forces Tarzi into both revealing information and hunting down an ISIS leader, Salah Al Din (Mohammed Azaay). Parallel to Tarzi’s quest for find Al Din, a loosely central Toft has his own quest: playing cat and mouse with Tarzi over Europe, an act of revenge for Hansen, with the help of Alex (Carice van Houten). In tracing Tarzi, Toft and Alex find also themselves closer to the crimes of ISIS – a potential double whammy for the Copenhagen cop.
As expected, Domino is your routine action film. Simple as. To much surprise, however, the deadlier Domino becomes, the more ridiculous (almost comedically) it becomes. Extraordinary or graphic violence should come as no surprise in a Brian De Palma film (remember the chainsaw bathroom in Scarface?!), but as the story edges closer to the likes of ISIS terrorists conducting another suicide bombing and additional mass explosions, there is an undeniable hilarity in the form of ridiculousness.
So, where is the moral ground with the depiction of contemporary terrorists in action films? The acts of ISIS remain fresh in the eyes of the public and forever haunting the families of victims – is it too soon for filmic depiction or is it ever appropriate? Domino’s depiction of ISIS is not as simplistic as a logo or name reference, but with the inclusion of a distasteful, almost satirical terror attack during a film premiere, and a beheading. Domino would (surely) not be made in 2019 Hollywood.
From New Hollywood to new in Asda’s £3 direct-to-video section, what has happened to Brian De Palma? The same, however, can be asked of many performers or practitioners whose prime or heyday occurred as recent as the 90s (looking at you Nicolas Cage and John Travolta). But in De Palma’s case, is a downward spiral of this magnitude a surprise? Of course not. Positively, however, it is pleasurable to see a New Hollywood director – who is not Steven Spielberg nor Martin Scorsese – still working in film.
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Ultimately, for what it is, Domino is alright. The action is shot relatively well, the acting is decent from the good, bad and very bad. There is a stylistic sense that will separate Domino from other direct-to-video action films as the director at the helm is experienced in this position. Domino is likely to be one of the better direct-to-video action films out there right now, though that does not say much for the rest. To compare Domino to De Palma’s back catalogue would just be an embarrassment. If terrorist-based villainy is your preference – which is fine if it is, as are many Bond movies and great action films from Speed to True Lies – then Domino would be a welcomed addition to your film diary.