Cinema Signal:

Bounty Hunter
by Bob Burton

. "Domino"

When studio heads and producers caught wind of an actual female bounty hunter, they must have started salivating. They probably calculated that it's the makings of irresistible boxoffice potential -- a rip roarer for action fans and females alike. With the additional facts that bounty hunter Domino Harvey was the daughter of film star Laurence Harvey and that she was, at one time, a Ford model, green lights must have gone off like paparazzi flashes.

Well, it didn't happen exactly that way. Director Tony Scott (Ridley's brother), highly respected for his splendid "Man on Fire" and the 2001 Brad Pitt-Robert Redford starrer, "Spy Game." was a friend of Domino Harvey and had been trying to get a film made about her logic-defying career move for years. When the latest hot star with all the right physical attributes and with whom the studio wanted to work had a hole in her movie schedule, it got the go, with Keira Knightley, a lass with the bodily virtues of a model on anyone's runway. Plus, she can act!

Scott then put together a splendid acting team of supporting players to give some semblance to the real story. He gathered in Mickey Roarke to play the real-life bounty hunter Zeke Unger, here named Ed Moseby; Delroy Lindo to represent real-life bail-bondsman Celes King III, here named Claremont Williams III; very sexy, on-the-edge Edgar Ramirez as the third member of the bounty team who provides credible love interest and sexual tension.

Lucy Liu who, as FBI psychologist Taryn Miles, delivers her patented wise-ass dealing with a hard case in an interview with the captured and roughed up Domino after a $10 million armored car heist and surviving a cops and criminals clash from which few survived. It's a case in which motivations and agendas are snarled up with all the clarity of a bramble patch and Domino's the key to explaining it. As she does, the story gets told in flashback. When she falters or tries to protect someone by leaving something out, the agent is quick to urge her on with threats of not helping her to escape criminal implication.

The story that emerges from her outline, turns out as a film, to be an audacious piece of tantalizing wreckage. The first problem facing the creative team in a yarn about a superwoman is to pull off the illusion that the actress playing her is physically up to it. Knightley tries. Her damndest. As she valiantly did in "King Arthur." But here, it amounts to a few slick and quick moves while the guys do the heavy lifting. Peeling off a clip of rounds in a machine gun on auto does not a superwoman make, however comely the lass. Strike one.

As though to mask the realities of physical possibility and pump up the fantasy of a female confronting sociopathic desperados, Scott and screenwriter Richard Kelly cast Domino in the light of toughness with a cigarette and smug attitude on her sensuous lips. To this they add hyped up editing, contrasting visual styles and multiple film processing variation. Post production must have demanded about as much time as principal photography.

Strike two is that the elements don't, unfortunately jel into a comprehensible story line, and don't live up to the real lady who inspired it. There's a scene where our 3-person bounty hunting team enters a house to apprehend a suspect and finds themselves completely surrounded by an armed gang, something like the Crips. It's about 12 to 3. Our 3 want to walk out alive. Domino saves the day by performing a "lap dance" for the benefit of the leader who would otherwise have no problem in blasting her and her partners into outer space.

And, that's the scene that makes sense. There's so much internal convolution and shifting time frames going on that there's little sign of straight sense elsewhere. Strike Three.

Dan Mindel's cinematography is as gutty and splashy as the film, with considerable underlighting to evoke the feeling of harsh realities. One can only imagine the freedom a face like Knightley's gives a photographic artist.

Which is the main, if not the sole reason to see this film. Even in a film of over-the-top visual and narrative stimulation, and in addition to the command of her special beauty, the evidence of a thinking actress doing her best with limited material is the strength of it. And, when she's back to back in the more disciplined role of "Pride and Prejudice," (opening soon) the contrast between the two parts and the consistency of the artistry are worth study.

The film ends on a brilliantly bittersweet note with a short clip of the real Domino Harvey standing, facing the camera. We briefly get a chance to see the model of fearlessness who inspired the project and the beauty that justified the casting. Though she knew that her life story was being used for a Hollywood spectacular, she didn't live to see its final result. She died in June, 2005, facing federal drug charges. One can only speculate on what she might have thought of her film bio, but my guess is that she wouldn't have been as critical as the filmgoing public.

The final irony is that at a time when remarkable and outperforming women are so praised and sought after, when films about them are numerous and flowing, this highly conceived one was done with such miscalulation.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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