Stay tuned later today for more tributes to the life and work of Tony Scott from the rest of the Critic Speak team.
It would be difficult to argue that Tony Scott’s “Domino” is his best work by any objective measure–it’s the kind of filmmaking that values messy passion over technical precision–but it’s my personal favorite because of the way that Scott swings for the fences. He swings so hard, in fact, that it’s amazing he didn’t dislocate a rotator cuff during production.
“Domino” immediately confronts the viewer with a hyperkinetic style that deliberately acts to thrash their senses. To bring Richard Kelly’s extremely dramatized version of real-life female bounty-hunter Domino Harvey (Keira Knightley) to life, most filmmakers would have divorced their storytelling from the protagonist, treating her as a subject whose story they were portraying from an external vantage point. This is the way that most biopics are told. But the notoriously boundary-pushing Scott does the opposite, bringing the viewer right into Domino’s manic, impulsive world with every audio-visual effect under the sun: quick cuts, fast and slow motion, saturated and desaturated filters, echoing dialogue — the list goes on. Typically, such excessive ornamentation would seem indulgent and reflect the clear presence of an auteur, but Scott uses these tricks so that the movie feels more like Domino’s, not his (no small accomplishment given that he made several similarly ultra-stylized works.)
The best indication that the excessive style works symbiotically with the material is that “Domino” never feels like MTV. In fact, one could argue that Scott is deliberately challenging the widespread mentality that this brand of in-your-face technical flourish is the exclusive domain of artistically devoid music videos by proving that it can be used so cinematically. Such a critique is in lock-step with the movie’s overarching pessimism about America’s obsession with reality TV, which is most overtly explored in a story-thread that finds “90210” stars Brian Austin Green and Ian Ziering traveling alongside Domino and her fellow bounty-hunters for a pilot.
The actors perfectly play to the heightened nature of the material, with Keira Knightley delivering a feisty portrait of the real-life figure that is less based on reality than her interpretation of the woman’s emotional scars. There is an especially great early moment when, in the midst of a shoot-out, Domino realizes that her target was watching “The Manchurian Candidate,” which starred her father (the actor Laurence Harvey). Most viewers won’t realize the depth of the look on her face at the moment, but after learning her reasons for leaving the family and taking on an entirely different profession, the scene achieves strong emotional resonance. This is great work from Knightley, but Scott also deserves credit for getting such a tour de force out of the young actress. Even when he made bat-shit crazy movies like “Domino,” Scott never slighted the basic fundamentals of his craft.