The Best Movie You Never Saw: Domino

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at DOMINO!

THE STORY: The true(ish) story of bounty hunter Domino Harvey (Keira Knightley) who leaves a life of privilege as the daughter of a movie star and a model, and embarks on a violent career as a bounty hunter.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Keira Knightley, Mickey Rourke, Édgar Ramírez, & Christopher Walken. Written by Richard Kelly. Directed by Tony Scott.

THE HISTORY: In 2005, director Tony Scott was riding high on the success of MAN ON FIRE, arguably his most critically acclaimed film to date. With his new cachet, he was able to shoot a long-time passion project of his, DOMINO. The daughter of movie legend Laurence Harvey (star of the MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE), who died young, Domino Harvey turned her back on a life of privilege (which included a stint as a Ford model) and became one of the first female bounty hunters, plying her trade in South Central, L.A. It truly seemed a story that was stranger than fiction, and Scott intended for it to become a subversive piece of pop art, akin to his own TRUE ROMANCE.

To that end, he hired then-red-hot screenwriter Richard Kelly (DONNIE DARKO) to pen his script. Financing eventually fell into place, and for his lead, Scott found the ideal candidate, Keira Knightley, then coming off PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN. Her star power was so strong that he was able to cast the rest of the parts his way, with Mickey Rourke (pre-comeback) as her pseudo father-figure, Ed, and newcomer Edgar Ramirez as her love interest, Choco. Folks like Christopher Walken, Lucy Liu, and Delroy Lindo peppered the supporting cast, and the result should have been a hit film. Should have. Sadly, DOMINO was critically reviled and whiffed at the box office, grossing a meager $22 million worldwide (only 10.1 million domestic). Scott bounced back with UNSTOPPABLE shortly after but tragically took his own life a few years later.

If you look at Domino, I sound like a broken record, but everything is driven by research. I hung out with these bounty hunters who were all coked up all the time – they’re all on speed or meth – and the movie was a product of my research. Everything in the way I shoot the movie is dictated by the world when I touch it, so we had ride-alongs with bounty hunters who were [sniffing like crazy] in the back, and it’s a product of that. But I think I was wrong. I didn’t let the movie breathe enough. The script was great – Richard Kelly wrote a great script – and I got overcome by the insanity of the world I was touching. I think I fucked up on that one. – Tony Scott – Cinema Blend Interview

WHY IT'S GREAT: I vividly remember seeing DOMINO opening weekend at my local suburban multiplex. Folks in the suburbs love movies (what else is there to do on a Saturday night?), and this particular theater was almost always full. Even movies that were considered flops (like the Bruce Willis vehicle HOSTAGE) regularly sold-out. Not DOMINO. Despite being the first weekend, I saw it in a virtually empty theater. Too bad because DOMINO, while indeed a coked-up freight train of a film, is one of Tony Scott’s best.

While I love his more mainstream studio films, crazy, off-the-leash Tony Scott has always been my favorite. Movies like REVENGE, TRUE ROMANCE, MAN ON FIRE, and DOMINO are him working unchecked, and to me, he’s just as bold and original a voice as his more celebrated brother, Ridley Scott (in fact – I’d argue Tony is more consistent). You can tell DOMINO was a story that meant something to him, and sure enough, the idea of a hot model, who also happened to be the daughter of a movie legend, masquerading as a bounty hunter, was about the most Tony Scott premise for a movie ever. If it has any failings, it’s that Scott gets slightly carried away in the fantasy aspect, with the real Domino Harvey having died of a drug overdose mere months before the film’s release. Any mention of her drug addiction is ignored by the film, which opts for a rollickingly fun account of a larger-than-life character.

Indeed, Scott made a badass actioner, giving Keira Knightley one of her better roles. Too often cast as highly poised aristocrats, here she was able to get down and dirty, showing off some major spunk, and she looks like she’s having a blast in the part. Mickey Rourke is also terrific as the “been around the block” bounty hunter, Ed, who serves as her mentor. As for Ramirez, I knew he’d become a star after watching this, as he cuts an effortlessly badass figure.

While Scott himself admitted he went too far with the cutting (which is almost avant-garde with how it disregards convention), the chaotic nature of the plot compliments his technique perfectly. I especially liked the reality show subplot, with Walken as a producer bringing on-board former “Beverly Hills 90210” stars Ian Ziering (pre-SHARKNADO) and Brian Austin Green as themselves – with both brilliantly taking the piss out of each other (I especially like Ziering correcting Rourke on the proper pronunciation of his first name). It’s too bad that DOMINO was received the way it was, as Scott would only have a few more movies in him before his death, while Richard Kelly has struggled to get back on track after the back-to-back failures of SOUTHLAND TALES and THE BOX (although I think the latter is underrated). They worked well together here, and both deserved more praise coming out of this one.

BEST SCENE: While based on a true story, Scott whole-heartedly embraced fantasy, opting for a comic book vibe. Nowhere is that more evident than in this infamous scene where Choco blows off someone’s arm, while Green and Ziering look on in horror.

SEE IT: DOMINO is widely available on Blu-ray, digital download, and Netflix.

PARTING SHOT: DOMINO definitely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a totally mental film, and the sensory overload aspect of it will no doubt turn-off a lot of viewers. At the same time, those of us into that type of thing (you know who you are), will take to this like a fish to water. Don’t let the bad rep dissuade you. DOMINO is worth checking out.


About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.