I always thought it was a logistical impossibility for a Muslim Impossible review to merit all five bloodied swords – and a flaw in my own system. But Domino (2019) manages to exotify and misrepresent Arabs, it strips them of complexity and portrays them as inherently violence, all while considering its portrayal as nuanced.
Hitchcockian composition meets Danish Mission Impossible, with a jarring, horror soundtrack. It’s obvious what they were aiming for, but perhaps it’s best to get some advice from an expert when you have the accuracy of a drunkard pissing into a straw.
Am I the only person with the Internet? Does nobody think to Google ‘How do Muslims pray?' before they start pissing all over religion, culture, continents, ethnicity, language? You get the picture. Put away the straw because everyone is already covered in piss.
Christian (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is a Danish detective in pursuit of Ezra Tarzi (Eriq Ebouaney), a black, Libyan Coptic Christian, who will stop at nothing to avenge his father, who was beheaded by Salah al-Din, a member of ISIS. Ezra’s family is kidnapped by the CIA in order to blackmail him into pursuing Salah al-Din… which he was already doing, but it’s best to watch this film with a loose regard for plot. And on x1.5 speed, like I did. But preferably not at all, and here’s why.
Lack of research
It’s clear that this film is another example of exploiting Arab actors and tired terrorist plotlines, without any innovation or accuracy. There are Moroccans dressed as hipster Gulfies, bastardised Muslim prayer, and an Arab named Ezra. I guess we’re doing that thing again where we pull ‘Arab’ names out of our fanciful exoticized arsecracks. See also: Shani from OITNB, and Cleo et al from Beneath a Burning Sky.
Despite being Libyan, Ezra – like the rest of the cast – doesn’t understand that Salah al-Din is a forename; instead he refers to the villain as “al-Din” for the entirety of the film, and each time your ears bleed a little more.
CIA agent, Joe Martin (Guy Pierce), seems to misunderstand Guantanamo Bay, confessing that Salah al-Din was released from Guantanamo for being “a model prisoner… in the end they just had to let him go.” Guantanamo, where you can be kidnapped and detained without charge for 17 years, but where the US is morally compelled to release terrorists for good behaviour.
When Salah al-Din escapes to southern Spain, we’re warned that if he makes it to Morocco, ‘or God knows where,” all hope of catching him is lost, even though it’s a heavily-surveilled security state with exhaustive counter-terrorism reconnaissance.
Although there is plenty of exoticism to go around in this film, worst off is Ezra, who spends the entire first 25 minutes of the film absolutely silent. I get it, I would have been absent from this film too if I could.
His silence and the filming composition hark back to the menacing, unknowable foreigner trope of 1920s cinema. He is also compared to a dog, “With you I don’t just get a bloodhound, I get a pitbull too, the most worthy of crossbreeds,” and as a possession to control, “I have him on a leash.”
That it is the ostensibly immoral CIA agent, and not the heroic Danish detective, making these comparisons doesn’t absolve the film’s producers of responsible representation. It’s not a commentary on racism if you don’t have a critique to make, if your corrupt American faces no consequences and the if audience receives no resolution or understanding.
This is a consistent trend in entertainment; studios (and publishers) profit from portraying racists, but fail to contribute to our understanding or contextualisation of the consequences of racism.
Why is Ezra the villain in this film? He’s a persecuted minority, seeking justice for a father murdered by ISIS. His family is kidnapped by the CIA on Danish soil. He has the (melodramatic) makings of a textbook hero. But Ezra is black, Arab and African, so instead he is bloodthirsty, attacks people without measure, discrimination or caution and is driven only by a very vague sense of revenge.
It is quite remarkable how Domino has managed to strip such an intricate character of all its complexity. We do not get to know his family or the cost of his loss, whereas there’s plenty of time to explore the complexity of tertiary white characters – they are pregnant, terminally ill, grieving. They are humanised, Ezra is not.
And then there’s the unnecessary violence. It’s not enterprising to re-enact ISIS beheadings, or to have a Muslim live-stream a shooting that echoes the Christchurch massacre, or to end the film with the promotion of reconstructed ISIS propaganda. This crude, meticulous violence is reckless and betrays how out-of-touch the production team is with the gravity of terrorism. They care only about entertainment and shock factor.
The terrorists, for their part, are incompetent idiots who leave a trail of clues for the detectives to follow, echoing the bungling, bloodthirsty Arabs that plagued 90s cinema.
And yet Domino still manages to delude itself into thinking that having a two-faced CIA agent, or a vaguely Arab man, Omar, working for the Danish police renders it offbeat and complex.
But Omar is coopted into participating in racist tropes; he confesses to his colleagues that Arabs, "we never forget" vengeance, even if it happened 60 years ago to our grandfathers.
The opportunity for nuance was there all along, in Ezra, they just couldn’t see past their racism to notice it.
The detectives do no detecting; they follow the breadcrumbs, open doors and beacons left by the incompetent terrorists. Their huge breakthrough is when, driving across Europe, they happen to pass Salah al-Din in a car and end up foiling his attempt to blow up Almería’s bullring. As the bomber holds up the detonator, a lukewarm kick to the groin causes him to drop it. If I could award 6 scimitars I would, because Domino deserves a bonus sword for its stupidity.
Domino receives five bloodied swords for exoticism, a lack of research, for portraying Arabs as one-dimensional and inherently violent, and for considering its representation to be nuanced.