Sons and Muggers
In Elizabethtown, Cameron Crowe mourns a lost father; in Domino, Tony Scott is like a predatory uncle.
Does Scott think his technique is "gritty"? He brings the camera in so close and lights his actors so severely that you can measure their pores, and their moles are practically 3-D. More important, the shots are clichés. There isn't a fresh angle—something that brings out an aspect of a character that isn't in the dialogue. The only desire is to pummel you and give you the jitters.
I remember seeing Abel Gance's silent Napoleon back when it was revived (with a full orchestra) in the early '80s, and watching the early snowball sequence, a furious montage that was like a different, more heightened, more unfettered cinematic language, complete with double exposures, and thinking that maybe this would inspire a new generation of filmmakers to go back to the avant-garde and find new ways of transcending naturalism. And then along came MTV and all the twenty-somethings who grew up with montage—and as bad as most music videos are, even the worst can suggest that in this medium, anything is possible. Of all the young mainstream directors, Darren Aronofsky in Pi comes closest to inventing a new cinematic language, one completely in synch with the story being told.
Once, Tony Scott's audio-visual hullabaloo enhanced instead of detracted from the content of a movie: Enemy of the State, in which Will Smith was tracked by the government with multiple satellites and surveillance cameras. The technique made the paranoia more visceral. But Domino is perpetual motion in a vacuum. It's not the fault of This Year's White Girl, young Keira Knightley, who sticks out her long jaw and acts wounded and defiant: She's not ridiculous. There are enough weirdly cool actors around (Mickey Rourke and Christopher Walken in the same movie? Wow!) to make you think that if Scott held on them for a second longer, something would come through. Well, Rourke, as Knightley's bounty-hunter mentor, does register, and he looks healthier than of late (not too hard—if he looked less healthy, he'd be dead). But no matter how hard I tried, I was constitutionally incapable of staying with Domino for more than a few minutes before wincing and shutting my eyes to ward off the horror.
At key junctures, Scott is so desperate for more graphic busy-ness that he runs big words across the screen: Sometimes they tell you the setting, sometimes they reinforce a plot point. And yet the audience is increasingly lost. So Domino manages the feat of literally spelling things out and being utterly incoherent. It's the end of the world.
Still of Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown by Neal Preston © 2005 Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved. Still of Keira Knightley in Domino © 2005 Daniela Scaramuzza/New Line Productions.