i don’t know that i’ve ever used the word “mess” to describe a film, but that’s exactly what this film is – a mess. tony scott certainly isn’t short of ambition on this one – he tries to make a heist/action film with equal amounts of comedy, love, and mysticism mixed in. unfortunately it turns out to just be one giant, sprawling mess without much bite.
in man on fire scott tried to carve out a new style for himself. it was gritty and ambitious and it (mostly) worked because the other elements of the film (namely the writing and acting) were in place. here, though, he tries to repeat the style, but with writing that is (at times) piss poor and acting which is often out of place. my grandfather always said that the screenplay was the cornerstone of a good film and it’s easy to agree with that. without a well-drawn set of characters, an engaging plot, and a modicum of cohesiveness you have a film like this – a complete mess. there’s a lot of writing here that is downright silly – some bad dialogue and some bad plot choices. in man on fire, scott benefited from a screenplay that understood the importance of establishing character. this film, on the other hand, jumps right into the action at the expense of character development. often it seemed as though scott was trying to tell the story with pure pastiche. he edits the crap out of this film and it often detracts from the most fundamental element of filmmaking – the storytelling. sure, it adds a vibrancy to the film and it makes for a unique style, but it comes at the cost of the story. sometimes less is more.
this idea is carried over into the acting as well. while it’s not as expressionistic as the directorial style, it is certainly not where it needs to be. i think that, to a varying degree, this is a weakness in all of scott’s films. it can certainly be said that much of the acting in films like top gun, crimson tide, true romance, and man on fire is a bit on the heavy side. domino is no exception to this trend. knightley is certainly the worst offender here. i think that part of it is definitely in the props scott gives her – in about 80% of the shots she’s in for any length of time there’s either chewing gum or a cigarette in her mouth. it’s just such an easy prop to establish toughness that it had the opposite effect for me. he gives rourke a cigarette in several scenes as well, but rourke brings with him a bit more cred than knightley and his face is more befitting of a tough guy bounty hunter than knightley’s. scott also gives knightley a pair of numchucks which she brandishes throughout the film. the reason that thurman was so brilliant and convincing in kill bill is that tarantino made it perfectly clear that she’d have to work in a gym for a full year to get into kung fu shape. she put in that work and was completely believable when she was handling weapons and throwing punches. knightley, on the other hand, is not believable in her role here.
scott’s use of music is very integrated into the editing and flow of the picture. in a way it’s the best part of the film because it matches the flow of the picture well. he uses two pieces that scorsese used in the casino – one an oldie and one an opera piece. for the most part, though, he uses hip-hop and electronic stuff that ranges from bad to pretty decent.
the ending is a poor rehash of the finale in true romance. in true romance he sets the scene much more thoroughly and shoots it in a more traditional (read: more logical and visible) fashion. filming action sequences with shaky handhelds and quick cutting has become an epidemic over the last 10 years or so. i don’t really understand the appeal of such a style. the bourne supremacy is the first film that comes to mind when i think of a film which lost some of its impact because of the way the action sequences were cut and filmed. i think it’s generally less of a stylistic decision and more a matter of not knowing how to film a good action sequence, so what you get is a director trying to cover it up with fast cutting and shaky handhelds. as an aside, one of the early shoot-outs takes place between the bounty hunters and the 18th street gang which is an actual gang in los angeles. when i was going to high school they were famous for feuding with sotel 13.
all in all i don’t think it’s been a good year for the scott brothers. ridley did kingdom of heaven and tony did this. there’s a good film somewhere in this story, but it’s buried underneath the bad writing and poor direction. kingdom of heaven was 145 minutes long and felt like it was 180+, domino was 120 minutes long and also felt like it was about 180. i’m not sure which scott brother made the worse film this year, so i’ll just call it a tie.Watched in theater