Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Domino: De Palma's latest is a pizza shit

It probably escaped your notice, but a new Brian De Palma film was released the other day. That's right: a fresh cut from the director of Carrie, Scarface and The Untouchables just bypassed UK cinemas entirely, immediately becoming just one more pathetic tear in the ocean of home entertainment. It's a sad state of affairs when the new movie from the director who launched the Mission: Impossible franchise gets less publicity than, say, animated kiddie-distracter The Queen's Corgi (tagline: "For Dog's Sake!"), but that's the position in which De Palma currently finds himself.

Of course it doesn't help that since so memorably dangling Tom Cruise from the ceiling of a CIA data vault in 1996, De Palma has made six quite rubbish and therefore largely ignored films; nor does it help that the production of Domino was so comically torturous that Bri himself has virtually disowned it. So it should come as little surprise, even to those of us crossing everything in the hope that this might have been his big return to form, that Domino is a strong contender for both the worst Brian De Palma film and the worst film of 2019 (Godzilla: King Of The Monsters notwithstanding). It might even be the worst film to be called Domino, and that's really saying something.
De Palma's Domino is a mentally challenged Eurothriller bafflingly set in 2020 Denmark (which looks suspiciously like 2019 Denmark), where everyone has Danish names but most people speak English with American accents for reasons never adequately explained. Jaime Lannister off of Game Of Thrones is a plain-clothes cop with no discernible personality, who inadvertently gets his partner killed in an early scene that - as is mandatory for Brian De Palma - references Alfred Hitchcock, specifically the rooftop chases of Vertigo and To Catch A Thief. You can just about make out De Palma having some fun at this point: a slow zoom-in to a gun on a table is justifiably laden with portent, and it's not long before the trusty split diopter is busted out in almost heartwarming memory of the director's halcyon days.

But where Vertigo's opening had inestimably grave repercussions for its protagonist's psychological wellbeing, Domino's is merely the fart that heralds the impending stench of a limp story about a terrorist plot in which Jaime Lannister off of Game Of Thrones gets accidentally and tediously involved. Having more or less shrugged off his responsibility for his partner's death as if it happens fairly regularly (which, given his apparent incompetence, is entirely likely), Jaime Lannister off of Game Of Thrones hooks up with fellow cop Melisandre off of Game Of Thrones. The pair struggle in vain to make sense of an asinine script while being occasionally distracted by CIA wonk Guy Pearce, the only actor who seems to grasp the full horror of his predicament and who therefore overcompensates by doing a funny accent to keep himself awake.
Reminiscent of early seasons of 24 in its indefensibly racist decision to make all its terrorists people of colour and all but one of its people of colour terrorists, Domino's general air of bad taste reaches as far as its scenes of actual terrorism. You get the feeling that a point is desperately trying to be made about terrorism's relationship with the media by showing the footage from the terrorists' phone cameras as they commit their atrocities, to which end De Palma finds a disturbingly self-referential new way to employ his beloved split-screen effect. But it's carried out with all the nuance of a cheap panto and pales in comparison with, say, this year's Vox Lux, which was an infinitely more thoughtful take on the idea.

Its confused message lost somewhere in a brutal, presumably studio-ordained edit, Domino has nothing left in its arsenal, and what remains is an embarrassingly amateur collection of examples of how not to make a compelling thriller. De Palma's long-time composer Pino Donaggio turns his well-worn Bernard Herrmann dial up to eleven, regardless of what's happening on screen (again, probably the fault of a hacked edit), characters frequently succeed by accident or make forehead-slappingly idiotic choices, and - after a Belgian airport security guard quite understandably confiscates Jaime Lannister off of Game Of Thrones' gun - Melisandre off of Game Of Thrones delivers the line "Forget it - it's Brussels" with such a straight face you wonder if she's wearing prosthetics to cover her uncontrollable smirk.
A drawn-out, dialogue-free climax (which echoes Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much, natch) threatens to briefly lift the quality needle off zero, but you're never more than a minute or so away from another eye-rolling groaner. It's hard to say it, but it's probably time to accept that the heyday of De Palma's career is long behind him, his heightened sense of camp, innovative direction and aching self-reflexivity mere memories to treasure while politely ignoring his current ramblings. Quit now Brian, for dog's sake.

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