In real life, Domino Harvey lived big and bad and loud. The daughter of renowned British actor Laurence Harvey, she was accustomed to the lifestyles of the rich and famous. After her father passed away when she was 4, her image-conscious mother quickly married another Hollywood name and moved to Beverly Hills. Domino was sent off to boarding schools and eventually became a Ford agency model; she was constantly getting into trouble wherever she went. By age 20, this tomboyish, silver-spoon rebel ditched the jet-set life and, after seeing an ad in the newspaper, decided to become ... a bounty hunter.
It’s here where Domino, the movie, takes off—though we’re immediately reminded with the opening credits that it’s merely “based on a true story ... sort of.” Onscreen, Domino becomes part of a ragged team of Los Angeles bounty hunters hired by Claremont Williams, a bail bondsman with a money-back guarantee to his clients. Heading up his team is Ed, a chase veteran Domino describes as the “mentor and father I never had.” Alongside him is Choco, Domino’s best friend and eventual boyfriend, and bus driver Alf, a former Afghan rebel. “We may have been dysfunctional, but we worked," Domino says. "We were family.”
Told through a series of flashbacks, Domino initially appears to be yet another heist-gone-wrong movie. Ten million dollars has been stolen from a hotel and casino tycoon, and Claremont commits to retrieving the cash. But there’s lots more to the story, and most of it surfaces when an inside job gets botched. The result isn't nearly as intriguing as it sounds, though.
Domino's creators like symbolism. A lot. At least that’s what you gather after being force-fed snapshot spiritual images and contrasting icons for two hours. A few examples: Gunshot victims' blood sprays (in slo-mo) across a backdrop of archaic images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. A tract-carrying preacher appears out of nowhere in the middle of the desert telling Domino that she’s an “angel of fire,” that she and her cohorts must sacrifice their lives for the sake of a child who “will be a great leader someday,” and that by offering themselves up in place of the child they will be “cleansed by the blood of the lamb.” Domino prays a butchered version of the Lord’s Prayer (combined with Jesus’ words from the cross) prior to going out and blowing up a few more vehicles—all while the camera focuses on a coin spinning through the air.
That flipping coin is virtually ever-present, and it seems to be the hook on which Domino hangs its worldview—one of complete chance, interpreted through the life-or-death nature of a bounty hunter’s job. In Domino’s oft-repeated words, “It’s 50/50. Heads, you live; tails, you die.” Somehow, she connects her Catholic school upbringing and her view of God with not only the twisted mission she’s on, but also this luck-driven outlook. When she miraculously survives near-death experiences, she reasons that the Great Coin fell heads up: “My destiny was life.” Later, she interprets a dead goldfish as “a sign from a higher person.”
What is our response supposed to be? In a sentence, we’re to praise her for playing the role of Jesus and risking her life for others. But I'm not buying it. Domino has far too many warped spiritual views for me to accept anything it offers at face value.
Elsewhere, a priest at a funeral recites an edited version of Revelation 21:4-5. In a boarding school dorm room, we see a cross and Virgin Mary picture hanging on the wall. Nuns, priests and murals of Jesus are ever-present in a cathedral, where the young Domino steals a coin from the offering plate. She later says, “God created me in His image. ... I guess He had a thing for models.” And after two of her friends die, she explains that they’re “staring down on me from the afterlife. I now feel we’ll meet again.”
Two gospel songs are played in the background, one of which talks about Jesus’ return. While being held at gunpoint, a man reminds his fellow hostages, “God is listening; we need Him now.”
Conversations include crude references to ejaculation, bestiality, masturbation, sex addictions, lesbianism, breasts and genitalia. Porn is celebrated, both in word and deed. As Ed watches a pornographic video, the camera lingers on the TV screen (nudity and sexual motion are seen). Choco points out that Ed has slept with all the women shown in a photograph. Claremont is said to have several mistresses.
Topless dancers get front-and-center camera time in an extended strip-club scene. Pool scenes include women in bikinis and suggestive dancing. Posters and paintings feature nearly bare female backsides and partially covered privates. Sorority girls line up in their underwear.
What's Domino and Choco's response to surviving a car crash in which their vehicle flips and rolls? They decide to have sex in the middle of the desert (she's seen topless). Choco strips down to his bikini underwear at a Laundromat. Domino gives a gangbanger a lap dance in her bra and panties.
Choco shoots a man’s arm, then yanks it from his body (complete with screaming and gruesome sound effects). Blood spatters everywhere, even on witnesses’ faces. The detached arm is subsequently shown multiple times. In a final showdown, bodies are riddled with bullets. Indeed, more than a few scenes are virtual bloodbaths. Four men are bound, lined up and shot (time slows down as the bullets begin peppering their bodies).
Domino hits a couple of people in the nose (causing blood). She shatters a car’s windshield with a knife and almost strangles a collegian with nunchucks.
Alf throws a wounded man to the ground and kicks him several times. In a flashback, he’s shown blowing up vehicles as a teenager. Later, he causes both an RV and the entire floor of a hotel to explode in spectacular fashion. Another RV flips several times. A helicopter plummets to the ground and crashes (offscreen).
To stop a moving car, Choco drops a TV and shatters its windshield. (Another car is similarly damaged by a large, dropped object.) He also tosses a chair into a TV set in a fit of rage and later grabs a cameraman by the throat. At age 4, Choco is said to have stabbed another kid in the eye with a pencil. Numerous scenes include people being held at gunpoint. Two women tussle on The Jerry Springer Show.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Domino, along with virtually every other character in the movie (including some teens), lights up for countless scenes. The billionaire tycoon smokes a cigar and, at the end of the movie, the real Domino Harvey is shown smoking a cigarette.
Hard liquor makes several appearances. To get back at the bounty hunters, a woman puts mescaline in their coffee. At a college fraternity party, students do cocaine and imbibe from kegs of beer (a beverage that makes numerous other appearances). A Hollywood celebrity smokes a joint (his reality show director makes a comment about him influencing kids watching TV). Clientele at a strip club drink alcohol. Domino makes a comment about drugs being a “coping mechanism.”
Show, don’t tell. It’s one of the guiding rules of creating art. Apparently, director Tony Scott believes in doing both—in excess. In Domino, the director of such heady action-thrillers as Man on Fire, Spy Game and Crimson Tide pushes down his tendency toward plot-driven stories and goes all-out for feel. The result is a dark, grubby environment full of depraved characters and a ridiculous plot only made more senseless through its unwarranted violence, sex and profanity. (During the screening I attended, people were shaking their heads and even laughing out loud at the pointlessness of certain sex and shoot-‘em-up scenes.)
Rather than allowing his audience to think for itself, Scott holds viewers’ hands through every predictable turn, connecting every single dot along the way with unnecessary narration and over-the-top, clue-you-in dialogue. Then again, it’s not all his fault. Domino’s screenwriter, Richard Kelly, expressed surprise that a studio actually decided to fork over the money for what he calls a “nonlinear punk-rock fever dream." He elaborated that he was "amazed that the film even got made because it’s very subversive. For like a $15 million studio release, it’s probably been since like maybe Fight Club or something for a studio to release something like this.”
Scott’s description of the film? “It’s very funny, it’s very dark and it’s very touching. It’s sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, and a little bit of violence.” A little bit?! Make that a lot of everything he mentioned—minus "funny" and "touching."
A postscript: The real Domino Harvey, whom Scott took under his wing during the 10-year process of making this movie, was discovered dead in her West Hollywood home just a few months before its scheduled release. She died with toxic levels of a painkiller in her blood. She was facing charges for drug trafficking while battling a 15-year drug addiction. It was a tragic end to a mostly tragic life. Yet here, onscreen, she somehow gets heroic treatment.