djs and bounty hunters

Ray Rahmey has a useful discourse on the difference between showing and telling. It’s aimed at prose writing, but it’s easy to translate the advice to screenwriting.

I saw two films recently that had great moments in them, but failed overall (in my opinion) to deliver a coherent story.

First up: It’s all gone Pete Tong. For the American readers “Pete Tong” is slang for “wrong”, and there is a double meaning because of the subject of the film. The film is half-mockumentary and half-drama about a fictional DJ called Frankie Wilde (Paul Kaye) and his adventures in Ibiza–the centre of the dance Empire. It’s booze, coke, girls, music videos and record deals for Frankie until he loses his hearing. Then it’s a descent into hell, from which he eventually recovers to produce one last album (created by listening to the vibrations), only to vanish again.

Frankie falls in love with the cute deaf chick who teaches him to lip-read, after his money-grubbing wife leaves him. Together they find meaning outside of the shallow consumerist lifestyle that had swallowed him before.

And that’s it. There is little subtext to the film. It’s a light repast, with funny moments, and nice visuals. It’s trying to summarise an experience (the Ibiza lifestyle) rather than tell a gripping story.

There are lovely touches, such as how the split screen is used to show Frankie cross-fading into a new track. Whoever came up with the idea of a 6-foot badger, with caked drool, wearing a pink pinny and butterfly wings, to represent Frankie’s coke habit was a genius. Those scenes play really well, and are definitely memorable. Otherwise it’s a bit “so what?” As should be expected the soundtrack has some great tunes–I’ll be buying it eventually.

Then there’s Domino, which was directed by Tony Scott and written by Richard Kelly of Donnie Darko fame.

Dearie me, what a mess. There are a number of problems, and the first is that Domino, as played by Kiera Knightly, is not very believable as a bad-ass. I suspect that’s because we don’t really see her being a bad-ass all that often. Sure, with her posh British accent and glamourous background there’s a nice contrast between her and her chosen career as a bounty hunter, but there is little to show that she had the courage of her convictions. We are told a great deal by Domino during the voice-over that she is a total bitch, but when it comes down to it we only see her in a couple of take-downs, and it’s mostly her companions, Choco (Edgar Ramirez) and Ed Mosbey (Mickey Rourke) who do all the work.

Domino’s biggest asset to her new buddies is that she gets them out of a tricky situation by offering the leader of a gang a lapdance. Fer fuck’s sake!

The film is very stylish, as you would expect from Tony Scott. Some people hate his kinetic visions, but I like them, especially when it fits the subject matter. In this film we have an unreliable narrator (too unreliable in places), and a story that’s out of joint and out of sequence. All of this can work, but unfortunately the plot is all over the place, and it’s not stitched together in a coherent fashion.

It’s never a good sign when you find yourself getting angry with a film. This happened at a pivotal moment when Domino miss-hears an instruction from her boss because of a faulty phone connection. It catapulted me out of the film immediately because what ensued violated Domino’s character traits as already established. From this point on the film deteriorated into a tangle of plot lines that involved the mob, an unreliable business man, a duplicitous bond-broker, a $10 million theft, a child that needed $300,000 for an operation, the FBI, and an Afghani driver called Alf. Tom Waits turns up as a kind of prophet character when everyone is out of their heads on mescaline. Now, I adore Tom Waits, but his appearance at that juncture did not help.

Domino survives it all, and ends up telling her mum–with whom she’s had a conflicted relationship throughout the film–that she loves her. Gak! The final nail in the coffin was the Hollywood moment at the end where millions of dollars are delivered to poor kids in Afghanistan who then throw it up in the air where it is blown around. Sure, every time someone delivers cardboard boxes of cash to me I toss the greenbacks into the breeze…

It’s a shame, because there are some interesting scenes early in the film before it goes all Pete Tong. Knightley does her best, and Ramirez and Rooney are excellent. I’m convinced that Rooney is some kind of movie sorcerer, because the screen just loves him. What an actor.

Domino Harvey was a truly fascinating character, and I don’t think much of her personality has made it onto the big screen. Of course the film-makers try to wiggle out of this by saying “Based on a true story. Sort of.” at the beginning. I think there’s far more “sort of” in it…

Now that I think about it Scott should watch Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which is a superior version of what Scott attempted. Black doesn’t succeed all the time either, and he wrote a comedy, which is always a plus. There are a lot of similarities in the two films: extensive voice-over, unreliable narrator, a screwed-up protagonist, and a disjointed structure, but Black pulls it off (just about). Pretty good going for a first-time director.

Domino made a paltry $20 million worldwide–I’ve no figures for the budget, but you know it was way more than that. Kiss Kiss on the other hand hauled in $15 million worldwide, but it only cost $15 million to make (I note that $11 million of that was from overseas markets, which says a great deal about non-American tastes). Once you factor in DVD sales that film is going to make money. And Kiss Kiss was not promoted at all by the studio, but got its audience via word of mouth.

I know I’d be more interested in seeing a Shane Black film rather than a Tony Scott film in the future.