Domino (2005): Tony Scott
A scene late in Domino shows the main characters imbibe spoonfuls of mescalin. For hours they endure insane hallucinations, emotions, and passions, and survive a horrific RV crash that should have torn their bodies in half.
I bring this up now because I believe the entire movie was made by people on mescaline. An intense, jittery experience for two hours, Domino tells a true story, sort of, about a model-turned-bounty hunter.
ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: A lithe bounty hunter is caught up in an armored car heist that involves a casino owner, the mob, Jerry Springer, and Beverly Hills 90210.
“My name is Domino Harvey.”
That’s common statement in Domino from its titular character (Kiera Knightly). The real Domino lived a manic life, one tailor-made for Hollywood adaptation, which we see here.
Domino’s father was Laurence Harvey, an actor who, among other works, appeared in The Manchurian Candidate. That’s a fact. Whether anything else is true in Domino is debatable. Nevertheless, Domino narrates her story.
The film opens with a bloodied Domino hand cuffed and answering questions from an FBI agent (Lucy Liu). Domino describes her childhood, when her father died young and her social-climbing mother scuttled her to a Catholic boarding school before moving to Beverly Hills to chase the 90210 lifestyle.
“That 90210 world,” Domino says, “It’s not for me.” From an early age, when Domino’s favorite goldfish died after a week of boarding school, Domino chose not to invest emotion in things, because that was “always a set up to the pain of losing them.”
Domino also learned the joys of a fast life. First, she stole a quarter from the school’s collection plate, then she punched a sorority sister in college. Thus, it’s a slippery slope from quarter-stealing to bounty hunting.
Domino joins a bounty hunting team by throwing a knife through a windshield. That’s a great way to get an employer’s attention, and it works for Domino.
Fast forward to her first job. She and her partners, Ed (Mickey Rourke) and Choco (Edgar Ramirez) storm a gangbanger house in the Los Angeles area to nab a guy out on bail. Those gangbangers get the jump on Domino, and when they enter the house about 10 guns are pointed at them. A sticky situation.
Domino, not afraid to die, ease tensions. She steps toward the leader’s shotgun, a snide look on her face, smokes his spliff, and offers him a lap dance in exchange for the whereabouts of the man they want to nab. The leader agrees, and all guns are dropped while Domino grinds it out on the his lap.
“I’m a hard worker, a fast learner, nothing scares me,” Domino says when she first meets Ed. Good thing she’s right, because Domino, Ed, and Choco are about to get caught in the most confusing scheme any bounty hunter has ever seen.
Too confusing to unravel here, the scheme involves the Mafia, a Las Vegas billionaire hotel owner, an armored truck robbery, cast members of Beverly Hills 90210, a polygamous bail bondsman, reality show camera crews, and The Jerry Springer Show.
Domino learns fast, and how she’s being manipulated in a scheme to steal $300,000. Once this plot unfolds, Domino’s story takes a bit of a back seat. Fortunately we already know a good deal about her. For example: Domino won the 2003 Bounty Hunter of the Year award, she loves tattoos, and she’s dope with nunchucks.
Knightly commits to her role as the toughest broad on the beat. She stares down guns as if they were petty looks from timid men. Watching her, you worry that she might bite off a gun barrel.
Domino’s tough exterior only drops when her life is in the most danger. Her job put her life in danger every day, so you know things have to go very far south for her to feel jeopardized.
Domino’s quirks are the movie’s strongest parts. Several times she rolls a quarter along the backs of her fingers. Her neck tattoo is a koi, although she thinks it’s a goldfish, which is a funny mistake for someone as self-assured as Domino. Her outfits are amazing, as is her pixie haircut.
Domino doesn’t have a single villain. It has many villainous characters, but none of them fit the Villain bill.
Except the guy who kickstarted the entire heist plot. Enter Claremont Williams (Delroy Lindo), legendary bounty hunter, owner of an armored truck company, and harem-haver.
Claremont concocts the heist that will unravel many lives and ensnare Domino. Here’s his problem: one of Claremont’s several women (most of whom work at the California DMV) has a sick grandchild who needs a $300,000 operation.
Claremont knows about a $10 million shipment of cash in an armored truck from Las Vegas’s Stratosphere Hotel. Claremont hires people to steal the cash, then he tasks Domino to recover the cash from the thieves, while promising Bishop, the owner of the Stratosphere and the money, that he will collect the cash for a small finder’s fee of $300,000. How convenient.
Claremont is a smooth operator. How else does one acquire a harem of women? A man with fingers in many pots, he hatched a decent plan to swindle the $300,000. Already Claremont has a quartet of people on the inside of the DMV, “the de facto conduit for all humanity.”
Claremont has Domino, Bishop, and the FBI running around each other. But when people start dying, or almost dying, he’s over his head.
Domino is so chock full of plots and tertiary characters that it makes little time for action scenes. The opening attack pits Domino and her boys against an old mother madder than a nest full of hornets. Some shotguns get shot, an arm is tossed around, a dog falls through a hole in the floor. You know, a Wednesday afternoon in the Nevada desert.
Domino tries to trick us into action scenes. Twice we see a shootout and in a bloodbath, only to learn that the scenes were Domino faking us out in her storytelling (remember, she’s telling the movie to the FBI). Half credit for these scenes.
The big action scene is, of course, the ending, discussed later. For the strangeness of Domino‘s first 90 minutes, the ending feels too normal and by-the-numbers.
Domino’s sidekicks are never in question. Ed and Choco, from the start, take to Domino.
Ed used to tour with Stevie Ray Vaughn and lost his toe in a prison riot. Choco, born in Venezuela, stabbed someone in the eye at the age of four. Tough bastards each, they’ve certainly lived harder lives than Domino, but she is very young and was raised by rich people.
Ed hires Domino for a specific purpose. She’s hot, and a hot chick walking beside you can make people think you’re cool. That’s a tragic idea, but it’s probably true. Choco, at first opposed to Domino joining the team, warms to her. Then he heats to her. Then his “Latin passion” burns with the fires of a thousand suns to her. Before the movie ends Choco punches through a glass door, throw a chair into a television, and threatens to shoot his best friend Ed, all because he is too timid to make a move on Domino.
Make no mistake, these guys are tough. They thrill to the chase as much as Domino, and they’ve done it longer. But man, life on the road chasing scumbags is hard. Remember when I said Ed lost his big toe in a prison riot? Turns out he shot it off, to numb the pain of life. He tried the classic trick in which someone says their head hurts, so you break their finger to distract from the headache.
A couple of times in Domino Choco uses his aggression to benefit his job. At a frat house, Choco finds a quarry escaping in a car, so he throws a TV, a cathode-ray TV, onto the windshield from the frat house roof and then jumps on the car. Later, when duty calls, Choco uses a sawed-off shotgun to sever a man’s arm, then finishes his coffee. Choco, man of action.
Here come all the characters. Many fingers in many pots make Domino a hard-to-follow movie. Credit to Tony Scott for finding time to develop tertiary characters. Mo’Nique plays Lateesha, a dirty DMV clerk who funnels fake IDs to California’s dirtbags.
Lateesha is a character in the “what a character” sense, and could star in her own film. She’s 28 years old, or claims to be, says “Fuck you” to her boss, and brings a mixed-race flow chart onto The Jerry Springer Show.
That’s right, a movie about a model-turned-bounty hunter has a scene in which a woman she barely knows appears on a trashy talk show to discuss invented mixed-race groups such as Blacktino and Chinegro.
Lateesha is a grandmother at 28, and that grandchild needs a dangerous operation that will cost $300,000, exactly the amount Claremont asks to recover the stolen armored truck money. Hmm.
Plenty of other odd balls running around the set. Christopher Walken is a TV producer who wants to make a show about Domino, and he hires the real Brian Austin Green and Ian Ziering to host the show. Ziering, signing a photo for a fan, calls a woman a whore for no reason.
Lucy Liu plays the FBI criminal psychologist who interviews Domino and obsesses over sharpened pencils.
Look out, Domino is becoming a Wes Anderson movie. Let’s move on.
Decent stunt scenes in Domino. Choco jumps off a few places and lands on his feet. When he threw that TV into the car: that was baller. And let’s not forget the RV crash.
After the bounty hunting gang drinks mescaline and Alf, the bounty hunter team’s driver, swerves across the winding desert road, he turns off of it and flip the RV several times. First, the vehicles flips end over end, which must require tremendous speed to achieve. Soon it lands on its side and rolls a few times, rolling to a stop a few yards from the camera. Somehow, not one of the unbuckled passengers dies.
What starts as a strange amalgamation of Domino’s life story and a bizarre heist movie melds into a conventional shoot-em-up to finish the film.
All the parties involved in the heist converge on the Stratosphere hotel, where a meeting occurs inside the Top of the World restaurant hundreds of floors above Las Vegas.
Domino, Ed, Choco, and Alf; their “celebrity hostages” Brian Austin Green and Ian Ziering; the billionaire owner of the Stratosphere, Bishop, and his lawyer; and later the Mafia and the FBI circling in a helicopter.
Plenty of people and plenty more ways for the deal to go wrong. Immediately Bishop has the celebrities escorted to the ground floor. Can’t have famous blood or famous eyes on hand.
Bishop wants his $10 million back. Domino agrees, minus the $300,000 she already gave to Lateesha for the operation that will save Lateesha’s granddaughter’s life. Bishop laughs at her audacity, but lets it go. It’s only 3% of the total, after all.
The billionaire owner asks Domino why she would get into a dangerous line of work such as the bounty business. Domino says that it’s only “dangerous when you have absolutely no idea what could possibly happen next.” Since her most recent goldfish died, Domino has expected something to go wrong, and it’s about to.
The FBI and the Mafia are both sending guys up the stairs to the restaurant. An FBI chopper circles the restaurant. While this is happening, Alf announces that the coat bags hanging from the luggage rack are filled not with 10 million bundled dollars but with bundles of C4 explosives, and the detonator is taped to his hand.
Earlier, we saw Alf palm a room key to a taxi driver. This guy entered Alf’s room, took the cash, and sent it to Afghanistan to help Alf’s people. It’s a noble gesture and, let’s admit, Alf’s the last person I expected to steal the cash from the hotel. Nice twist.
Well, here’s the mob. Cigliutti, the Mafia boss, you’ll recall, believes that Bishop murdered two of his sons. Bishop is like, “No way bro.” and Cigliutti is like, “Yuh, ya did. Kill ‘im boys.”
Pow. Gunfire from all parties. Bodies are flying. Alf is the man shot most. Bishop and his lawyer die. Some mob guys die. It’s hard to tell if anyone survives the gun battle.
Domino, Ed, and Choco take the explosives and Alf and retreat toward the elevators. The FBI agents in the helicopter shoot into the restaurant, until the pilot is shot and the chopper explodes on the ground.
Ed and Choco are shot in the atrium outside the elevators. Alf, still alive, huffs and puffs with his back to a wall. Domino sees her almost shot-to-death buddies and flies into a rage. She lifts two M-16s, holds the triggers, and blows away any one in range.
Domino’s rampage buys enough time to get her men into the elevator, except for Alf. Alf, the biggest hero, says, “I’ll make everything OK.” The bad guys surround Alf and almost put him out of his misery, but not in time, because Alf detonates the C4 bags, exploding the top of the hotel.
Inside the plummeting elevator car, Ed muses, “It’s a great day to die.” The explosion severs the elevator car, and as it plummets the final 20 floors, Domino and Choco say what needs saying. “I love you.”
Back with the FBI psychologist, Domino finishes her story. She’s released, and though her would-be lover died, she returns to her mother and is able to tell her what she never had before. “I love you.”
Crazy, crazy shit happens in Domino. I’ve made that clear. Domino’s mother comes to a TV meeting with Domino’s partners. A preacher with an unknown hand injury meets Domino in the desert while she’s tripping on mescaline and has survived a harrowing accident. Brian Austin Green watches a colleague shoot off another man’s arm. Ed bitch slaps Choco. A sex addict plays 2 Live Crew to a sex addicts meeting.
Crazy, crazy shit. All of it funny in a way that throws you off kilter. A “What’s going on?” funny. Too weird.
Southern California is lousy with armed gangs, and Domino, Ed, and Choco visit a few of them in early scenes. They also circle around dumps in Las Vegas, especially the desert compound where a locked freezer holds about $10 million.
Grimy and grungy, nothing about Domino‘s settings makes the film stand out.
Domino‘s biggest statement is that Warner Brothers is killing it. Domino’s TV show airs on the WB network, and that logo emblazoned on a truck follows the RV around for several scenes. Genius synergistic marketing.
The movie always made a point to play Afghan-like music when Alf was doing anything. Also, Domino says that they couldn’t pronounce his name, so they called him the cat-eating alien. Who can’t pronounce “Alf?” That part rang hollow.
- Editing: Late in the film, the bounty hunting group unwittingly ingests mescaline, hallucinating in the desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The movie edits the scene as if one was watching on mescaline (I guess; I’ve never taken the drug). Problem is, the entire movie is edited this way, because it’s a Tony Scott movie and that’s how he rolls.
- Domino says “my heart of hearts,” one of my least favorite cliches.
- Line of the movie: “Maybe you should have thought of that before you became a grandmother.”
Summary (28/68): 41%
Domino is a crazy movie with plenty of moving parts–drug use, talk shows, bounty hunters, gambling, Mickey Rourke–that somehow coalesces into a good time.