By Stina Chyn | October 15, 2005

I would be an actress. I would…and just like Keira Knightley. I don’t have the body of a ten year-old boy or pouty lips, but after watching “Domino” (Tony Scott), I’ve recognized the attraction of living a low life, being nasty, and not going to jail for it. As the title character, Knightley—and Richard Kelly the screenwriter—cites this scenario as the reason to participate in the profession of tracking down criminal elements that fail to appear in court. “Sort of” based on the life of model-turned-bounty hunter Domino Harvey, Scott’s film is an intertextual, self-referential, parody of pop-culture that valorizes episodic story-telling structure over linear progression.

The film begins with Domino being questioned by Taryn Mills (Lucy Liu) concerning a bounty retrieval that went wrong. Incorporating bits of her past—Catholic school and sorority house hazing—but focusing on the events that led to the job in question, the film becomes an illustration of what Domino tells Taryn. Whether mirroring her attitude or narrating momentum, or simply attempting to induce the audience into having an epileptic seizure, the frenzied camerawork and rapid editing pin viewers to the edge of their attention span. Running two hours in length, “Domino” is comprised of such accelerated, and sometimes effectively tense, drama and action as if it was about to lose patience with itself.

The grainy, sweaty, yellow-washed visual design; the cyclical and overly synched soundtrack (lyrics matching images); and the jolty camera/editing may be grounds for the evaluative component that differentiates a film review from a film essay, but a conventional discussion of Scott’s film in terms of viewer satisfaction or entertainment value—as it relates to evaluation—becomes problematic because “Domino” is not necessarily the kind of cinematic object that unequivocally, without hesitation, produces a gut response of enjoyment or lack thereof. Even if one adores or abhors the aforementioned technical aspects, the film yearns to be analyzed from a feminist and a formalist perspective for ideological significance more so than for leisure spectatorship.

Specifically, the dynamics between Domino and her bounty-hunting mates Ed (Mickey Rourke) and Choco (Edgar Ramirez) are ripe for feminist engagement. For instance, when Ed and Choco are deciding whether or not to let Domino turn their gun-slinging duo into a trio, they regard her as a potential fashion accessory—she’ll make them look cool. But by the end of their first assignment together, they’ve developed a kind of respect for her. She has become an individual capable of kicking a*s and breaking noses, and who will do whatever it takes to get the job done.

The gazes of the characters and the camera objectify the female and briefly the male bodies. To offset this construction, the film must depict its characters in one of the most unflattering lighting and color schemes imaginable. “Domino” is also ugly because it emphasizes the aesthetically unglamorous qualities of hanging with the hunters. Every surface imperfection is fore-grounded by bold close-ups. The beauty that lies within this visual beast relates to compassion, which is sincerely touching but also somewhat silly.

When a film is more conducive to a scholarly dissection than a consumerist examination, the film is incredibly clever, pragmatic, or pretentious. In the case of “Domino,” it’s all of the above. Its self-awareness and ability to crack jokes about “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Jerry Springer,” and then throw in some Pepsi product placement indicate that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Yet, parts of “Domino” work because they are receptive to a critical discourse typical of dissertations, which leaves a peculiar taste in my head. I might still want to be an actress like Ms. Knightley so I could live a low life, be nasty, and never go to jail, but I certainly don’t want to watch a film for pleasure and then think about it as if it were an exercise in the application of feminist theory.

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