Movie Review: DePalma “Domino”

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Watching the work of a great filmmaker in his or her later years is akin to following your favorite big league ballplayer on his “farewell tour.” Not so much because you’re eagerly anticipating the performer’s retirement. You pay attention because you’re looking for little hints of the greatness that was their prime.

Brian DePalma gave us “Dressed to Kill” and “Blowout” and “The Untouchables” and “Snake Eyes” and a “Mission: Impossible” picture. People stopped calling him a “Hitchcock Impersonator” decades ago.  But he’s going to be 79 next Sept. 11, and even though he’s got a “Predator” movie in the works and another thriller in pre-production, his last film that truly impressed probably came out 20 years ago.

But like a slugger taking that last trip around the circuit, he can still deliver one of his trademark bravura action sequences. “Domino” is a drab, implausible and melodramatic terrorism thriller showing his ongoing interest in the post 9-11 world of “Redacted (2007). Drab, that is, until he gets to one of those famous set-pieces.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Danish star of that TV show all the homebodies are talking about, “Game of Thrones,” takes another shot at a big screen action picture (he did “Shot Caller,” which did well on video among “GoT” fans) with this story of Danish cops, the CIA, a grieving immigrant seeking vengeance and an ISIS connected terror cell operating in Europe.

Christian may be one of Copenhagen’s finest, but on the fateful day that our story begins, we see him leave his gun behind on his post coital nightstand.

DePalma’s overuse of shrill Hitchcockian strings underscore “FORESHADOWING,” because wouldn’t you know it? That contributes to Christian’s partner (Søren Malling) getting his throat slit.

Very DePalma, BTW.

Christian covers up his ineptitude with his boss as he stays on the trail of the perpetrator (Eriq Ebouaney), a Libyan immigrant. The crime scene had a terrorist’s body already slumped in a chair, along with guns, explosives and produce. Hey, you’ve got to smuggle that stuff in somehow.

Dutch actress Carice van Houten, who broke out with “Black Book” and who also was on HBO’s most popular show, plays Alex, another cop assigned to the case.

As they chase clues south from Denmark into The Netherlands, Alex feels the need to stop the car for a little weeping session at the base of a windmill. And thus do we see how “international” productions finagle their financing, and get another serving of coincidence in a plot that leans on them far too much.

Their prime suspect was nabbed by guys in suits with tasers. The moment Guy Pearce drawls his first questions to the Libyan, we know he’s CIA, y’all.

“How’d you know?”

“We’re Americans! We read your emails!”

So the CIA is using the Libyan to get close to ISIS while the Danish police hop, skip and jump from “fairyland” (Pearce’s CIA designation for Denmark) to the south of Europe, while a pack of generic movie Islamists plot big suicide attacks, complete with machine guns, gullible suicide bombers, drones and streaming two-way video giving the head man (Mohammed Azaay) a first-person shooter video game thrill.

The dialogue is unquotably bland, the situations soap opera melodramatic and the performances perfunctory, although Pearce smacks his lips and chews up his few scenes and Ebouaney, new to films, gets across a hint of his character’s malice born of desperation. Coster-Waldau gets by on good looks and presence, here.

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No, what we”re here for are the homages to Hitchcock, a rooftop nod to “Vertigo” and a finale that conjures up memories of “Stagefright” and Doris Day’s turn as a Hitchcock blonde in “The Man Who Knew Too Much.”

DePalma interjects random bits of up-to-the-minute surveillance tech into a movie whose clumsy, cut-and-paste script sees Danish cops having basic European geography and geopolitics explained to them. And to us.

But that payoff “bravura sequence” has multiple points of view, a crowd, lots of slo-mo and the threat of violence on a vast scale, all of it set to a bolero — not Ravel’s “Bolero,” just a pastiche of it.

And friends, if the entire movie had been as good as this Spanish last act, they’d have had something here.

Almost everything that comes before it is as generic as its title.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, some language and brief nudity

Cast: Carice van Houten, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Eriq Ebouaney, Guy Pearce and Søren Malling

Credits: Directed by Brian DePalma, script by Petter Skavlan.  A Saban Films release.

Running time: 1:29

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3 Responses to Movie Review: DePalma “Domino”

  1. harry georgatos says:

    This was a hugely troubled production. Shady financiers had lied to De Palma and crew members who had not been paid. De Palma had negotiated a 100 days of shooting. Once the shooting had began De Palma was told he can only have 30 days of shooting which compromised the movie. De Palma was unable to shoot sequences he had planned. It was a depressive set to work on. I wouldn’t say De Palma is washed up because of his age. Clint Eastwood is going great guns in his 80’s.

    • Clint’s movies have an old man’s impatience and pace. No re-takes, shuffling along after editing. Your “100 day shoot” is a laughable claim, either from you or DePalma. Nobody shoots 100 days, except maybe GoT. The last time I talked to DePalma he’d finished some malnourished project. Money troubles dog all of the great ones still trying to work these days.

      • JJ Abely says:

        I’ll take a lukewarm, if intermittently “bravura,” De Palma over Eastwood any day.

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