Here are the quick movie reviews for Domino & Non-Fiction.
Brian De Palma’s Domino was a troubled production story for the ages: underfunded, shot by the seat of its pants, and cut to pieces without the director’s approval or supervision. But that’s the least of the issues with the final product. There’s little indication this low-rent, high-minded terrorism schlock ever had any hope of being a better film than the version that’s now making its way to VOD and a very spare amount of movie screens. Too much of the material is intact to suggest that this was some kind of late-career masterpiece has been lost along the way, and too many of De Palma’s fingerprints are still visible to believe that additional money or context would have yielded a substantive thriller that’s more than the sum of its parts.
The best that Domino can boast are some general concepts for exciting set pieces. Moments like the film’s early Vertigo riff and a climactic attempted terrorist attack at a bullfighting ring are intriguing on paper. Unfortunately, the rest of the paper is filled with mundane plotting and characters so flimsy that it’s impossible to care about what happens to them. It’s easy to imagine De Palma making a little more out of Domino had he had a bigger budget than an episode of CSI. At least, that’s what it looks like he’s got. The cinematography by José Luis Alcaine pulls out the stop for a few brief moments, but the majority of the film is profoundly uninspired. Throughout Domino it looks as if it was shot by a second-unit director, with De Palma coming in only for the action sequences. And those action sequences only look good in contrast with the other scenes in Domino, which don’t offer much.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Eriq Ebouaney & Søren Malling in Domino
When the conclusion to Domino finally comes around it ends up being uniquely dissatisfying. Weird recurring images, specifically tomatoes, lots and lots of tomatoes, come together in the most asinine way, and the storylines “resolve” with a halfhearted shrug. An actual game of dominos ends up having more entertainment value — more depth and panache, too. Domino offers a sloppy screenplay with underdeveloped characters and a half-written plot, pumped full of racist, fear-mongering, one-dimensional villainy. Only the most diehard De Palma fans will find anything to intrigue them, and they’re going to have to dig through a lot of boring junk to find it.
It’s difficult to ask hard questions about change and technology and progress — particularly to consider whether “progress” is actually progress — without sounding like a cranky old man, but writer-director Olivier Assayas has now done it twice. 2008’s Summer Hours contemplated a world in which new generations seemed uninterested in preserving art history and cultural treasures of the past, and now over a decade later, with Non-Fiction, he asks similarly pointed questions about the future of books and literature in the internet age. Which he does so with a minimum of chest-pounding and an abundance of sparkling wit no doubt helps the message go down, particularly since it’s clear that he’s not offering answers but instead merely asking the questions.
The film introduces us to a group of friends, lovers and colleagues, all of whom engage in spirited conversations about the state of writing, acting and politics, areas that have been forever changed by online habits. Alain (Guillaume Canet) runs a venerable publishing house, trying to weigh the benefits and consequences of pivoting to digital. He’s having an affair with Laure (Christa Théret), the woman running that digital transformation, even though she has some extreme ideas about what counts as literature and about the extinction of books. Alain’s actress wife Selena (Juliette Binoche), who’s working on a police drama, knows he’s cheating and rekindles a fling with author Léonard (Vincent Macaigne), whose latest manuscript Alain turned down to publish. Léonard is infamous for writing novels that are merely thinly-veiled accounts of his own life and love affairs — which he infers to as “auto-fiction” — and Selena lobbies for the publication of his book even though she inspired one of the characters.
Juliette Binoche & Vincent Macaigne in Non-Fiction
Few of today’s major filmmakers have been so unafraid to use the language of the present in order to articulate the anxieties that connect us to the past. But now with lively and deceptively slight Non-Fiction, Assayas has pivoted in a bold new direction: This is unapologetically a movie about the permanence of a Tweet. An inseparably French romp about the frustrations of trying to leave your mark on a culture where photos disappear as soon as you’ve seen them, the most vicious murders are executed on message boards, and your mistress hasn’t seen a single Ingmar Bergman film. It’s Assayas’ talkiest film to date, and also his funniest. (There’s a running gag about a movie-theater sex act and Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon that continually pays off brilliantly.) Throughout Assaya’s marathon dialogue-fests, you see this is smart, insightful talk, delivered by a great ensemble of performers.
Assayas, age 63, isn’t (and never could be) an old man shaking his fist at the clouds. He’s not arguing that the new art he grew up with is intrinsically better than the art today, or that a text is more legitimate than a tweet. This breezy and cautiously optimsitc bit of late-career reflection finds Assayas interrogating how we ascribe meaning to things (and value to people) in a world that seems to be remodeling itself faster each day. Non-Fiction isn’t a surrender, nor is it a call to arms. It’s an anxious, yet calming, reminder that change is the only true constant, that steering the current is a lot easier than fighting it. Nobody does that better than Assayas, even when it looks like he’s not even trying.