starring David Strathairn, Patricia Clarkson, George Clooney, Jeff Daniels
screenplay by George Clooney & Grant Heslov
directed by George Clooney
ZERO STARS/**** Image A Sound A Extras B+
starring Keira Knightley, Mickey Rourke, Edgar Ramirez, Delroy Lindo
screenplay by Richard Kelly
directed by Tony Scott
by Walter Chaw Rigorous and principled, George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck. is a curiously slight film for more reasons than the fact that almost a third of it is comprised of archival footage integrated semi-successfully into the story. It's a recreation of a very specific battle in a very specific war that resonates with our Patriot Act/Guantanamo Bay situation, and indeed, that's the target Clooney seems most interested in striking. But without a larger context (the sort that would have weakened its allegorical usefulness), the picture sets itself up as something as obvious as it is minor and feather-light. It's a professional, high-minded, and staid biopic is what I'm saying, a film that says what it says with the stark B&W cinematography of a Dr. Strangelove, but in its icy, humourless way, it's the same stark B&W cinematography of a Fail-Safe, too. It's close and under-populated--and even with so insular and finely-focused a spotlight, it contains at least two completely superfluous characters.
With a framing story set upon the occasion of legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) receiving a commendation in 1958 (an opportunity Murrow used to berate his colleagues for letting the standards of television journalism slip), Good Night, and Good Luck. focuses on the period during which Murrow took on Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy and his HUAC campaign to make Americans turn on one another--our last major period of fear and loathing. The more accurate term is probably not "focuses," however, as there isn't really a focus to the piece so much as this is an exercise in stark chiaroscuro at play in a minimalist, vaguely surreal 1950s television studio. Style is struggling to overcome substance, but the substance is so strong that it ends up in limbo, neither provocative nor stylish enough to inspire.
Although broached and tossed aside in the picture, a moment where Murrow and his producer Fred Friendly (Clooney) wrestle with the question of whether or not it's healthy for a human being to be forced into the standard of journalistic objectivity provides for me the key to the text. Good Night, and Good Luck. (Murrow's trademark sign-off) is a film about people who aren't quite human anymore, driven by the demands of their profession to instinctively assume an aspect of unnatural objectivity. Thus when an issue like McCarthy's red-baiting anti-American patriotism rears its ugly, top-hatted head, it forces them into assuming unfamiliar aspects of passion. The hope of the film's allegory is that we'll wake up, eventually, to the possibility that sometimes there isn't another side of a grim story. Alas, it's an allegory that gives no reward in its deciphering. It's a film shot by termites in a terrarium, or an adaptation of that Ray Bradbury short story in which a little girl is locked away in a closet on the one day in a century that it rains: a peculiarly insulated tale with no recognizable humans in its cast, energized like robots in the Hall of Presidents to recite the dusty echoes of their most inspirational lines, frame their stock footage, and intimate that the guardians at the gate were then, as they are now, talking heads nursed at the glass teat who might, if given enough cause, one day awaken again to champion the things we truly believe in.
For however cloistered and "live theatre" is Clooney's Murrow biopic (and it bears mentioning that Clooney's last biopic, the Chuck Barris biography Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, is full of verve and fascination), at least it's not Tony Scott's almost literally unwatchable biopic of Domino Harvey, Domino. Ostensibly telling the tale of the titular model-turned-bounty hunter (Keira Knightley), Scott's joint begins with the hipster title card "Based on a True Story. . . Sort of" and goes downhill from there. Far from staid, the picture illustrates nothing but Brownian motion--shaking shit up real good and filming the results for two long hours to a parade of ironic pop songs and barely-heard snatches of dialogue written by someone I'd like to see do better than this, Donnie Darko creator Richard Kelly. Domino demonstrates no knowledge of how to tell a story, relying instead on Knightley's ability to sneer and swing nunchucks and Tony Scott's inability to leave any single frame of his film unprocessed. It looks not only like it's been bleach-bypassed to smithereens (for that Fincher feel), but also as though the camera's come loose of its crane and whipped around on cables like a firehose for a few hours.
Flashback to Domino as a little girl then forward to an interrogation conducted by Lucy Liu (the lighting is so ill-advised that nearly every close-up is a death's head of hollow eye sockets and weeping cheek bones) in what appears to be a bank vault, then to some point in-between as someone's arm is put up for collateral in a trailer park negotiation, then to a mob boss talking on a cell phone from the bottom of his swimming pool, and finally to Domino's lazy hardboiled voiceover--which brings the little girl back to punk rock. It's a lot like Jonas Akerlund's repugnant and identically unwatchable Spun: pretty girls playing at ugly in a picture more interested in tableaux than in coherence. Domino meets bounty hunter guru Ed (Mickey Rourke) at a seminar of sorts, but we've already met him in the future along with third wheel Choco (Edgar Ramirez), who has a crush on Domino but is "too shy to say so." (He also tends not to speak English, though he is subtitled for our benefit, I guess.) But Choco isn't too shy to strip down in a Laundromat and, after some Natural Born Killers stuff with murder, rednecks, and mescaline-tripping in the desert, we're too beaten into submission to try to figure out if Domino's coy takedown of Choco's manhood came chronologically before or after their slow-motion tryst.
Trying to describe the plot is the equivalent of just running along, giving a blow-by-blow of the calamitous editing tricks (rack focuses, whip pans, dumb zooms, handheld, you name it), mentioning that the mafia gets involved and a cameo by Dabney Coleman, and translating the half-subtitles that Scott started to do with the now-reserved-seeming Man on Fire. Meanwhile, Mickey Rourke skeezes around in the Mickey Rourke fashion, playing exactly the same role he played in Spun. (For all I know, and for all it matters, they spliced outtakes from that disaster into this one.) Domino, true to the toy that shares its name, is a series of set-ups and knock-downs strung together loosely by the promise that somewhere along the way Knightley's sure to take her top off, bless her heart. I suspect that the film is racist in its depiction of a trio of "sassy Black chicks" led by the insufferable Mo'Nique Imes Jackson, just as I suspect that the screenplay by Kelly is no good, but I'll be honest with you: Domino is impossible to judge in any useful way. It's like critiquing the relative merits of a scream delivered into a vortex: there's so much garble on the line that I can't comprehend even the gist of what's being expressed. Originally published: October 14, 2005.
THE DVD - DOMINO
by Bill Chambers New Line presents Domino on DVD in competing widescreen and fullscreen Platinum Editions; we received the former for review. The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a disciplined rendering of volatile elements, as evidenced by the 'control group' of those two or three shots that don't induce seizures. In other words, no new artifacts were introduced into the image at the mastering level. Blistering is how one would describe the attendant 6.1 DTS-ES soundmix, which, even if we might characterize it as white noise, is not as monotonous as the picture's fever-pitch editing--we never quite become desensitized to the sternum-rattling bass, for instance, because it's deployed with relative moderation. A Dolby Digital 5.1 EX alternative also shines, just not quite as brightly.
Director Tony Scott and screenwriter Richard Kelly share a yak-track, though their comments were recorded individually and combined in a vaguely screen-specific fashion after-the-fact. "I hope this film does well," Scott says early on; ouch, replies the viewer. It's amazing how quickly commentaries date themselves--a discussion about obtaining permission to use the WB logo rings particularly ironic, since the netlet had nothing to lose: What Scott didn't know when he recorded this yakker was that the WB was soon to merge with UPN, effectively killing the brand. Defer though he does to sensei Scott, Kelly's string of shorthand references to his only produced film (e.g. "Darko," "Jake and Maggie" (as in "Keira reminds me of Jake and Maggie")) suggests he very much deserved this slice of humble pie. ("I am a director first and a writer second," insists the guy with one movie under his belt.) Worse, Kelly seems to believe he's written a groundbreaking piece of meta-fiction and not simply deposited Domino Harvey into a big dumb action movie of his own hasty creation; Domino is "about" Domino Harvey in much the same way that the mid-'80s Saturday morning cartoon "Mister T" is "about" Mr. T. (Kelly came up with the movie's counterfeit-license storyline while sitting impatiently in the DMV.) Needless to say, Harvey--who would've been played by David Bowie in a movie that was honestly punk--led a life dishonoured by the movie but one ripe for the silver screen all the same.
A second, nigh unlistenable track compiles Scott's pre-production meetings with Kelly, executive producer Zach Schiff-Abrams, and, briefly, Tom Waits--nigh unlistenable because their every decision will prove idiotic, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it. (It's like getting to experience your own private "City on the Edge of Forever.") Domino looks truly depraved through the prism of Charles de Lauzirika's humanizing "I Am a Bounty Hunter: Domino Harvey's Life" (20 mins.), in which we meet the real-life Choco and, through not only footage of her hanging around the set, but also an alternate-audio Q&A conducted by Kelly, Domino Harvey (hardly the riot grrrl of Knightley's one-note interpretation)--and learn, among other things, that Domino tried to hide the fact that she was a bounty hunter from her mother, who eventually found out and, fearing for her daughter's safety, gave her a Kevlar vest for Christmas. Now that's a scene! Alas, Kelly would rather play hipster with pomo references to "Beverly Hills 90210" while Scott jerks off to AMERICAN CINEMATOGRAPHER in the corner.
Speaking of which, "Bounty Hunting on Acid: Tony Scott's Visual Style" (11 mins.) is a self-explanatory apologia wherein cinematographer Dan Mindel admits to confiding in Scott during the technically-arduous shoot, "I haven't been this afraid in a long time." Be afraid, Dan, be very afraid. Last but not least, seven deleted/extended scenes, presented in the New Line house style (i.e. anamorphic widescreen, DD 5.1), include optional commentary from Scott. Of a grittier version of Domino and Choco's desert tryst, Scott observes, "That's not a love scene, that's a fuck scene." All I know is it's the only thing preventing me from using this DVD as a coaster. Teaser and theatrical trailers for Domino plus a block of trailers for Final Destination 3, A History of Violence, and "Blade: The Series" round out the platter. Originally published: March 2, 2006.