Saturday, August 05, 2006

2005 in review: #8

8. Domino (Tony Scott)

B-side: Head-On (Fatih Akin)

For years, critics have been bemoaning the decreasing number of strong female characters in cinema. Thankfully, there were a few exceptions to that trend in 2005, with these films being two of the most notable. In both DOMINO and HEAD-ON, the heroines yearn to escape their pre-destined place in society through unconventional means, and somewhat miraculously both flower in their new surroundings.

I’m still a little stunned that I loved DOMINO as much as I did. Tony Scott has never been a director I’ve cared much for- my favorite films of his tended to be entertaining for other reasons besides his contributions (the Hackman/Washington chemistry in CRIMSON TIDE, Shane Black’s script and Bruce Willis’ performance in THE LAST BOY SCOUT, Deneuve and Sarandon in bed in THE HUNGER, etc.), and waiflike ingénue Keira Knightley seemed about the least likely bounty hunter imaginable. All the more miraculous then that they both pulled off easily the best work of their careers. They’re backed by a highly eclectic and uniformly awesome supporting cast (best in show: Mickey Rourke and Mo’Nique), and a strange tapestry of a script from DONNIE DARKO’s Richard Kelly. The end result is one of the year’s best pure entertainments, but with the extra edge as the film indelibly probes the near-saturation point pop culture has reached in America today.

In HEAD-ON, Sibel Kekilli is remarkable as Sibel, a suicidal party girl who gets out from under the thumb of her strict Muslim parents through a marriage of convenience. That her older barfly husband Cahit (memorably played by Birol Ünel) has even fewer prospects than she does could have led to disaster, but instead his listlessness slowly brings out her more nurturing side and propels her into responsible adulthood. HEAD-ON works both as a peek into the lifestyles of Turkish immigrants in Germany and as a punk-suffused anti-romance (dig the “Punk! Is! Not! Dead!” bit), but Akin’s film is more unpredictable than that, taking a surprising turn in the final hour that separates the couple and lands the story back in Turkey. The film's final minutes exert a strange emotional charge, occurring after so much has happened to Cahit and Sibel throughout the course of the film that a conventional happy ending would not only be unfeasible, but also deeply unsatisfying. Wisely, the film doesn't fall into that trap.

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