starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Carice Van Houten, Eriq Ebouaney, Guy Pearce
written by Petter Skavlan
directed by Brian De Palma
by Alice Stoehr When Brian De Palma was 17, relates Julie Salamon in her book The Devil's Candy, he tried to prove his father was having an affair. "All summer long he recorded his father's telephone calls," she writes. "On more than one occasion he climbed up a tree outside his father's office and snapped pictures of him and his nurse." Though perhaps too pat as an origin story, this experience--oft-repeated by biographers, as well as the director himself--haunts his filmography. From Dressed to Kill to Blow Out to Snake Eyes, his characters and camera fixate on audiovisual evidence. They foreground how film itself can act as documentation, to either reveal or distort the truth. These same preoccupations shape Domino, his thirtieth feature and the first he's directed since 2012's Passion. The espionage thriller, penned by Norwegian screenwriter Petter Skavlan, intertwines three sets of characters as they bound across Western Europe. Christian (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is a Copenhagen cop who sees his partner's throat slit in a set-piece modelled after the opening of Vertigo. He seeks vengeance against the assailant, Ezra (Eriq Ebouaney), who's blackmailed by a handler at the CIA (Guy Pearce) into tracking down the same ISIS cell that beheaded his father. It's tawdry material, nesting two revenge narratives and plenty of terrorist intrigue inside a film that's under 90 minutes long.
He's clearly trying to push some buttons, and Domino's Muslim terrorists, with their cries of "Allahu akbar," fit squarely into Hollywood's history of Islamophobic caricature. That said, the film does introduce some ambiguity, through both those villains' savvy filmmaking and the positioning of the CIA as merely another sinister faction. Political violence relative to power is a major motif in De Palma's work, going back to Hi, Mom! and Phantom of the Paradise. No one in Domino is especially right or wrong; everyone's just taking action to advance a given ideology. The Danish police, operating far beyond their jurisdiction, might end up foiling an attack, but they're hardly noble--that outcome's incidental to the pursuit of revenge. Like many of De Palma's films, this one takes place within a panopticon, namely the continent of Europe. Cameras mediate chunks of the action. Midway through and reprised again at movie's end, a terrorist recruit named Fatima shoots up a film festival in Amsterdam. She has one camera capturing her face in close-up while another sees from the perspective of her firearm's sight. The sequence plays out in split-screen, juxtaposing the shooter with her victims. It's like a videogame. During the reprise, the two halves have been cut together into alternating shot and reverse shot. What transpires here is baroque fantasy, unhinged from the moral intricacies of the real world. That's always been De Palma's blinder--and his power as an artist. He's a horror maestro nearing 80 and still constructing his own record of the truth.