Film Review ***: ‘Domino’ Hits a Cinematic Bull’s-Eye
Not-So-Faithful Biography Nonetheless Hunts Audiences’ Attention
By Danbee Kim
Directed by Tony Scott
Screenplay by Steve Barancik, Richard Kelly
Starring Kiera Knightley, Mickey Rourke, Edgar Ramirez, Jacqueline Bisset, Christopher Walken
Non-linear storytelling, dizzying camera angles, gritty unfocused action shots — “Domino” director Tony Scott knows how to spin a tale. Loosely based on the true story of Domino Harvey, daughter of famous British actor Laurence Harvey and supermodel Paulene Stone, the movie jumps into the middle of the action, catches up the audience from the beginning, then takes them on a frenetic journey to a powerful ending.
This well-paced thrill ride recounts the tale of the model-turned-bounty-hunter, disgusted with the pretensions of 90210-ers and wanting to live life on her own terms. Domino, played with rebellious fire by Kiera Knightley, turned her back on a privileged life and became one of the most notorious bounty hunters in Los Angeles, hunting down society’s nastiest criminals and bringing them to the law. Her somewhat dysfunctional “family” is composed of Ed Martinez (Mickey Rourke), her boss; Choco (Edgar Ramirez), her best friend and fellow bounty hunter; and Alf (Rizwan Abbasi), the Afghan driver. Eventually, Domino is even picked up for a reality TV show.
The movie centers the story around a job gone wrong, one that gets Domino caught and put under the scrutiny of an FBI interrogation. In bits and pieces, Domino narrates her story, starting all the way back when her father died. She moves through her life methodically, setting up the events that shaped her and came to mean something to her for years afterwards. Cinematically speaking, the beauty of the film comes from motifs that run like embroidered gold throughout the entire movie, such as the line “Heads you live, tails you die,” a line that seems to embody the way Domino lived her life. Another common thread is goldfish, pets that were first a gift from her father, and later became a symbol that meant more to her than nearly all of her human relationships.
Tony Scott’s style in handling this story helps convey the somewhat chaotic feel of Domino’s life. All of the action scenes are filmed with the feel of a shaky handheld camera, putting the audience not only into the physical layout of the scene but also the psychological feel of the moment. Faces are only half-seen, images flicker and blur as they cut rapidly across the screen, and the almost dizzying camera angles and movements in some scenes seem prone to induce motion sickness. Some of the action scenes run through a scenario of death, playing out one version of reality while the proverbial coin flips. When the coin lands, or when the story reveals more information, the scene goes into rapid rewind, then follows the proper sequence of events. It’s a heady way to deal with reality within the movie, and it captures the essence of Domino’s fast-paced, adrenaline filled existence.
Sadly, people looking for a true account of Domino Harvey’s life will not find it in this movie. Although Domino is a fantastic action thriller that delivers a movie-going experience that leaves audiences breathless, the movie took artistic license that deviates greatly from the true story of Domino Harvey. In reality, the statuesque 5-foot-9-inch blonde was never a model, but ran a London dance club and worked on a ranch in San Diego before becoming a “bail recovery agent,” aka a bounty hunter of fugitives. She never had a reality TV show, but Domino was a person who could and would convey a certain image of herself in hopes of becoming a legend, a trait she apparently inherited from her father.
When her mother moved to California after marrying Peter Morton, founder of the Hard Rock Caf and Hotel chain, Domino stayed behind in an apartment in London’s Notting Hill Gate neighborhood. She joined her mother in Los Angeles at age 20, at which time she was put in rehabilitation for drug problems. After attempting to find a career as a firefighter then as a paramedic, Domino chanced upon classes for bail enforcement agents and decided to become a bounty hunter. She sold her life story to Tony Scott in 1995 for $360,000, about the same time her boss Martinez left Los Angeles, effectively ending Domino’s bounty hunting career. For the next few years, Domino got by on computer graphics jobs and part-time DJ-ing at nightclubs in West Hollywood, living with her half-sister Sophie in a cottage a block from the Pacific Design Center.
The real Domino Harvey was involved in the production of the movie. She was often on set as technical consultant for the movie, and although there were many reports that she was upset with her portrayal and the liberties taken by Scott in the movie, she was delighted with the movie and resented the reports of conflict. The real Domino Harvey also appears in a short shot at the end of the cast credits. Interestingly enough, however, the movie does downplay Domino’s drug problems and the fact that she was bisexual. Just this May, Harvey was arrested with charges concerning methamphetamine, and put under house arrest. Domino girded herself for several personal battlefronts, including suing publications for describing her as a lesbian, breaking her drug addiction for good, and creating a documentary of her life. However, on the night of June 27, Harvey was found unconscious in her bathtub, and at 11:28 p.m. that night, she was pronounced dead. Rourke and Scott were among those who attended Domino Harvey’s funeral on July 1. Scott also added an “In loving memory” card for her at the end of the movie.
This intriguing take on a true story is definitely worth watching, whether or not the audience appreciates the truth lying behind it. Although knowing the real story of Domino Harvey adds another layer of appreciation to the experience, the movie itself is quite a package of action, adrenaline, emotion, and good old magical movie fun.