Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Domino (Scott, 2005)

At first glance, Domino appears to be a hopelessly schizophrenic movie, one that thrives on the atonality of overdramatizing innopportune and seemingly random events with audio cues, over/under exposure/saturation/contrasting, expressionistic/idiotic lighting, and overbearing cameramanship, only to abandon the idea immediately. It soon becomes apparent, however, that this is a schizophrenia born of an intense yet fleeting interest in every detail of an event, for better or worse. Moments like these can be taken either as microcosms of Domino Harvey's existence or experimentation for experimentation's sake.

The strange thing is that, in a film in which indulgence is the core concept, indulgence becomes restraint. Sometimes it's amazing how little of a striking image we may actually see. Scott is quick to flash and discard, which displays a strong conviction in his editing choices. The editing room must had been a very adventurous and stimulating experience for the filmmakers. Some of these images have a certain depth, such as one of Domino sitting on a couch with newspapers blowing all around her (we get barely a glimpse), or one of young Domino with an overlay of a fish swimming in its small allotted space. These aren't overly profound, but in a film that prides itself on momentary surprises, they become part of a larger syntax.

There are, of course, stylistic flourishes that are hard to swallow. Some usages of slow motion, some blur effects (from using hand crank cameras), some stop-frame zooms, and especially the repeating of lines can become tiresome. Similarly, some sequences consist of an awkward succession of close ups that quickly become annoying and disrupt any conventional establishment of mood, which could be intentional but whether that justifies it is arguable. The film is so willfully atypical that one sometimes hopes to find some mooring, some familiar ground aesthetically.

As far as narrative goes, the film refuses to acknowledge any lines separating such things as respectability, absurdity, stupidity, or coherence from their polar counterparts. Domino is an anarchistic, individualistic, arrogant woman who won't take no guff and finds some measure of spiritual ascension in the end. Still, thematically, one again turns to the film's aesthetic, as the film functions well on this and other levels as a satire of contemporary culture. Each character is introduced by voiceover and subtitle, and each location by the latter, mimicking television. Some things are spelled out blatantly in words on screen, like when the "Real First Ladies" and the "Fake First Ladies" are each labeled, juxtaposed, then labeled again. Throughout the film, there is a recurring pinging noise curiously reminiscent of the "yes, that letter is in our puzzle" sound from Wheel of Fortune. This is a film steeped in a world in which mass proliferation of information and culture (pop and otherwise) has permeated all facets of society, i.e. the present. Domino functions as an American zeitgeist on crack, the use of the cliché being very apt in a description of this particular film, right down to the casting of the 90210 guys as themselves and the Afghan driver blowing up the Stratosphere with, you guessed it, a remote control.

Domino opens with the disclaimer "Based on a True Story -- Sort Of." It has a narrator that tells us one thing, then doubles back to contradict, and we see the event in rewind (another stylistic device contributing to the reflection of other electronic media and therefore modern culture). That narrator (Domino, of course) later refuses to tell us what's true and what isn't, defiance being quite characteristic of Ms. Harvey. The film's acknowledgement of its artificiality is absolute to the point that Tom Waits, via song, announces the impending arrival of his cameo as a catalyst for Domino's absolusion with, what else? "Jesus Gonna Be Here Soon."

There's are many things going on in this film, and it succeeds in being a jumbled mess of all of them. It's understandable why this film was panned, but I happen to think it has something to offer. Not a great film, but not a terrible film. Though Domino's quarter deals in absolutes, apparently the film itself landed vertically on its edge. It's not heads or tails, it's something in between.


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