Domino, Tony Scott's new film about the life story of the late bounty hunter Domino Harvey, is the equivalent of about 20 rides in a row on the tilt-a-whirl. I think theaters showing the film should post one of those warning signs: 'If you suffer from motion sickness, have heart problems, get nauseous after being visually tossed about for nigh on two hours, have a fear of excessive jump cuts, strobe-like camera effects, or moan when confronted with one of those movies where the film stock is leeched of every color but that oh-so trendy shade of urine yellow, sit this ride out.' If, on the other hand, you want the visual equivalent of being tossed inside a dryer for a prolonged period, this is the movie for you. To be sure, your enjoyment of Domino will directly depend on your reaction to those statements. Guess which one your cinema writer leaned toward?
OK, to be fair—enjoyment is different than appreciation. I have certainly 'appreciated' the expert technique of many films but hated their content. Natural Born Killers, Requiem for a Dream, and Se7en immediately spring to mind. OK, so I can't get worked up about serial killers, drug addicts, and more serial killers, but an alleged lesbian female bounty hunter? And the daughter of a movie star, to boot? With Tony Scott, director of the lesbian horror classic The Hunger at the helm and a script by twisted Donnie Darko writer-director Richard Kelly, it certainly sounded like a hot little project.
But the finished result—though it will seem a technical marvel to some ( see lead paragraph above ) —is such a convoluted mess that the good humor endeared by the opening credit 'This is based on a true story … sort of' turned rotten by the second reel.
The entire movie is laid out in a series of scenes no longer than about four minutes each. At the top of each scene, usually in voice over, we return to the framing device of bounty hunter Domino Harvey ( lesbian pin-up girl Keira Knightley ) smoking a cigarette ( the nicotine content in this film is higher than The Hunger, believe it or not ) and being interrogated by a twitchy FBI agent ( Lucy Liu ) about a heist. As the sullen Domino narrates, we cut to the appropriate locale, which after being established quickly resorts to the cinematic hijinks. Sensory overload takes over for the rest of the scene. In this manner the quasi-biography of rich girl gone bad Domino is intercut with the made-up bank heist. What looked liked interesting performances by Jacqueline Bisset, Christopher Walken, and, yes, Mickey Rourke, were obscured by the frenetic cutting favored over Harvey's story. As for Knightley, Domino is her latest tough acting tortured beauty—after similar characters in King Arthur and The Jacket—and it's wearing tissue thin.
So was Domino Harvey a lesbian? Was her father, actor Laurence Harvey bi-sexual? What made Domino become entranced by bounty hunting in the first place and what drew her to the flame? Who knows? The film can't be bothered with the complexities of these questions. Instead, it invents heterosexual romance, hypes itself with the heist framing device, and pours on the blood and bullets. I know all these biopics that are suddenly the Hollywood rage ( and get ready for lots more with Oscar season upon us ) are equal parts truth and fancy and expect the distortions. But at least give me distortions that are interesting and compelling—and Harvey's story screamed at the top of its lungs with both. This is about as bad a job as Hollywood did with Billie Holiday's life in Lady Sings the Blues where again the real person's story was considered so complex that it had to be dumbed down for audiences.
Director Tony Scott has spent his career creating in-the-moment crowd-pleasing hits stuffed with visual pyrotechnics ( beginning with Top Gun ) but interestingly, aside from his debut feature, The Hunger, I can't recall a memorable image or performance from any of them. If it has been Scott's career objective, to create disposable movies, he's done it in spades—and Domino is the biggest dump of his career.
The 40th annual Chicago International Film Festival, which kicked off Oct. 6 and runs through Oct. 20, continues with two Windy City Times co-sponsored films. First up is the fascinating, sexy documentary of 1970s gay porn poster boy That Man: Peter Berlin. This probing documentary by first time director Jim Tushinski of the 'Garbo of porn' has three screenings this week: tonight at 9:15 p.m.; Thursday, at 9 p.m.; and Friday, at 5 p.m. All the screenings will be held at the AMC River East 21, 322 E. Illinois.
Be With Me, a favorite at the Cannes Film Festival, is from director Eric Khoo. Inspired by the autobiography of Theresa Chan, a 61-year-old deaf and blind woman from Singapore, the movie is a moody triptych of urban relationships in Singapore that are only tangentially connected. The first focuses on a lonely shopkeeper whose life changes when he reads the autobiography; the second on a security guard with romantic yearnings and a healthy appetite for food and internet dating; and perhaps the most satisfying ( and heartbreaking ) , a young lesbian relationship in the first stages of blossoming that darkens as the movie progresses. The film is beautifully shot and is as reflective as its evocative score. Subtitled. The film has three screenings: Monday, Oct. 17, at 9:15 p.m.' Tuesday, Oct. 18, at 4:45 p.m.; and Wednesday, Oct. 19, at 6:45 p.m. All the screenings will be held at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark.
Complete information on fest tickets, show times, special events are available by calling 312-332-FILM or online at the Web site www.chicagofilmfestival.com .
New website: In addition to my archived columns and articles at the Web site www.windycitymediagroup.com, you can now find my cinema-related writing at my new site, www.knightatthemovies.com .
The site allows for lengthier reviews, expanded in-depth DVD title recommendations, 'Shorttakes,' a site-only capsule review feature, and the occasional film essay from my long-promised book on camp movies. Still a work in progress, I hope to add a visitor's opinion forum before too long.