Heads, you live; tails, you die

Brit actress Keira Knightley plays games with race, love and her own exploitation in ‘Domino’

by Katie Wilber

It’s like a dream: Slow-motion images accelerate to fast-forward, like a speeding car; color changes to black-and-white and back again; jarring and disjointed images overlap; the echoes of voices resonate from anywhere and everywhere.

“Domino,” the newest film from Tony Scott, is a mess. But it’s a lovely, chilling, disturbing mess.

It stars Keira Knightley as Domino, a character loosely based on the late Domino Harvey, the daughter of a movie star and a model who ended up in Los Angeles chasing down bail jumpers.

Mistaken identities, greed, deceit and desperation snowball into a horrible, terrifying chain of events that bring the bounty hunters, a bail bondsman, a dying child, the department of motor vehicles, the mob, a hotel owner and the FBI together.

With underscored themes of race, love and female exploitation, the most powerful scenes are often the most uncomfortable. Her first day on the job ends with Domino giving a lap dance in exchange for information. Her body is a bargaining tool – a tool as potent as a gun.

The first raid almost ends in disaster. But for now, at least, Domino’s quarter – a quarter she stole from a collection plate in her Catholic boarding school in England – landed “heads.” For now.

Her quarter is one of the movie’s themes, and she’s frequently shown rippling the quarter across her knuckles or flipping it in the air.

Scott’s cinematography is at once breathtaking and frightening. A close-up of Domino’s smoky-shadowed, carefully mascaraed eyes widens to a shot of her slouched in a chair in an interrogation room, dried blood on her lip and underneath her fingernails, smoking a cigarette.

With a screenplay by Richard Kelly, the writer of “Donnie Darko,” the movie begins and finishes at the end and repeatedly returns to that interrogation room.

“Domino” asks questions – soul-twisting, conscience-wracking questions of right versus wrong, bad versus good – but provides no answers. We don’t learn what happens to Domino after her arrest, but we are left with a conflicting flurry of emotions.

It doesn’t matter if she’s guilty, but we are left to wonder how her next coin, flipped by her higher power, will land.