A Tribute To Tony Scott: Domino

Domino is my least favourite Tony Scott movie for one singular reason: Keira Knightley.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of flaws in Scott’s “ode” to real-life model-turned-bounty-hunter, Domino Harvey. And he’s not successful in achieving the vibe and intent that he is aiming for. Yet, Scott’s unique visual eye and unarguable sense of pace (not to forget his brilliant casting ability) could’ve seen this film through as dispensable but watchable, at best.

However, by putting Knightley in the lead role, the film has no such chance. It becomes an out-and-out car-crash of epic proportions. Knightley is so miscast, so inconceivably not up to the task required of her and so absent of the level of talent required that she creates a vacuum around her into which she sucks the life from all the very talented cast members around her – and essentially the film itself too.

There is an inherent sense of – no, actually a DEMAND for – unquestionable sexiness, slightly off-kilter quirkiness and adrenaline-pumping sense of danger needed to portray the character of Domino Harvey. Knightley lacks all three. You could sort of lower your expectations slightly if you saw that she was trying and failing to achieve them but she’s not.

And there’s the problem: Knightley is bored here. She looks it and she acts it. She treats the role like what it was to her – a profile-raiser at best. And it is never anything more than apparent in every second of her screen-time, making it resolutely impossible for the audience to engage with her and find the connection needed to go on the journey that Scott wants to take them on.

And what a journey it is.

The film presents to us the absurd, too-outlandish-to-be-true-but-it’s-actually-true story of Domino Harvey – the daughter of Manchurian Candidate actor, Lawrence Harvey. Domino came to the US from the United Kingdom as a daughter of privilege before giving up a burgeoning modelling career for a life as a bounty-hunter working on the fringes of society. Scott pulled in Donnie Darko’s Richard Kelly to add to subplots a plenty involving corrupt bail bonds men, disgruntled Mafioso, aging Beverly Hills 90210 cast members and a reality TV crew.

The director first heard of Domino (who died from an overdose a few weeks after production of this movie was completed) when a British newspaper article about her crazy life was brought to her attention. He became good friends with her, adopted her as his ‘god-daughter’ and fought hard to bring a movie of her life to the screen. Rumour has it that Keira Knightley was forced upon the director in order for him to get the green-light at the budget he wanted, and that his original choice for the role had been (a then barely known) Emily Blunt.

Domino is a mess, no two ways about it. But it’s most certainly not a boring one. Visually, Scott is out to achieve the goal of “shooting the whole thing like the audience is on speed to give them the feeling of what Domino’s life was like” and he very nearly comes close to succeeding. The problem lies squarely in the fact that his lead actress is so awful that she distracts from all else.

All that’s left in the wake of Knightley’s incompetence is a crumbled mess of embarrassed great character actors (Mickey Rourke, Delroy Lindo, Monique and Christopher Walken to name but a few) placed within an extremely vividly shot film.

That “visual excess” and “choppy editing” of Tony Scott’s that the critics liked to tear into with each release ends up being the only thing that gives Domino any degree of interest whatsoever.

If you handed this film over to George Lucas and had him digitally replace Knightley with a more-talented and competent actress then this would be something worth talking about. WIth Knightley in the lead though, it’s a complete dud and one of Scott’s worst films.

Check out the other articles in this feature (will update this list as they are released):

1. An Introduction To Tony Scott

2. The Taking Of Pelham 123

3. The Fan