Movie Review: “Domino” (2019)

Brian De Palma has made some truly wonderful films.  He has a talent for ratcheting up the tension and creating some very memorable sequences. His latest, the Nikolaj Coster-Waldau starring “Domino” may have an interesting moment or two, but it is certainly not among De Palma’s best works.

Written by Petter Skavlan and also starring Carice van Houten, Guy Pearce, and Eriq Ebouaney, “Domino” is a tepid revenge tale mixed up with a terrorism plot, a love triangle, a nefarious CIA agent, and other bits and bobs.  While one might assume that that would be enough for an extended running time, the movie is hair under 90 minutes and most definitely feels padded.

It must be said that some of the early goings work well – two Copenhagen cops, Christian Toft (Coster-Waldau) and Lars Hansen (Søren Malling), answer a call for a domestic dispute which turns out to be something far more nefarious.  Neither officer is at their best on this particular occasion, with Toft having barely slept and forgotten his gun at home, and Hansen having a secret that’s eating away at him, causing him to drink to excess.  What follows is a tense sequence with a dizzying score (the music is by Pino Donaggio).

In fact, there’s wonderful music throughout the movie.  The score is tremendous.  “Domino” also does an impressive job with silence, allowing some moments to unfold without music or much in the way of audio and increasing audience involvement that way.

After this great early start, when the audience begins to understand all the whys and wherefores of the crimes and the problems with the officers, the movie spins out of control. At some point it stops being this tight movie about the secret lives of police officers and how it impacts their work and becomes a larger tale about a terrorist plot.  While the former may have some rote elements, the latter is utterly generic.

“Domino” is a tale that feels both too big and too small.  The terrorism angle demands a scope that the movie never achieves, but the story of Toft and the officer who pursues the case with him, Alex (van Houten) wants a more intimate, confined, setting; a place where deep, dark, inner secrets can emerge and tear at the characters.  That doesn’t exist here.

So, the audience is left with these disparate elements that never gel into a cohesive whole.  Neither aspect is given room to breathe and the grandiose vs. personal areas that are explored do not find some happy middle ground. One might actually forgiven for thinking that, at certain points, these were two separate films that had been magically spliced together and while the terrorism tale is never interesting, the police drama has the potential to be completely fascinating.

The big selling point for many here will be “Game of Thrones” stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Carice van Houten opposite one another.  Although, unlike on the HBO show, they have a lot of time on screen together in “Domino,” it isn’t the sort of in depth exploration of character and motivation which the TV series has regularly (but not always) put forward.  In short, the cast may get people in the door, but it isn’t going to be enough to keep anyone interested.

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photo credit: Saban Films

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