Home > Reviews > DOMINO – Pino Donaggio

DOMINO – Pino Donaggio

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Once upon a time, Brian de Palma was one of the most respected directors in Hollywood. From the late 1970s, all the way up through the mid 1990s, he made a series of critically acclaimed and commercially successful dramas, action movies, and thrillers, many of which starred the most popular box office draws of the day. Films like Obsession, Carrie, The Fury, Dressed to Kill, Scarface, Body Double, The Untouchables, Carlito’s Way, Mission Impossible. These films won Oscars, and took home prestigious trophies from film festivals in Berlin and Venice. However, recently, the luster has begun to wear off of De Palma’s career; he hasn’t directed a real box office success since 1996, and with each successive film dropping further and further down the prestige pecking order, he now finds himself consigned to making films like this one – Domino – a terrorism-themed thriller which apparently had its budget slashed during filming, and was edited against the director’s wishes during post-production to such an extent that the finished product barely makes sense. The film, such as it is, stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau from Game of Thrones as a detective from Denmark seeking vengeance for the murder of his partner, apparently at the hands of an ISIS militant. Although he can clearly still attract top notch casts to work with – Domino co-stars Guy Pearce and Carice van Houten – De Palma’s work here has been critically mauled, and has suffered the further ignominy of being consigned to ‘straight to streaming’ VOD services. How the mighty have fallen.

One thing about De Palma that has never diminished is his appreciation for excellent film music. Throughout his career he has employed the most respected film composers in the world: Bernard Herrmann on Obsession, John Williams on The Fury, Ennio Morricone on The Untouchables, Patrick Doyle on Carlito’s Way, and so on. However, his most frequent musical collaborator over the course of his career has been the Italian composer Pino Donaggio. Domino is their eighth film together, following on from such classics as Carrie, Home Movies, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, and Body Double, and if nothing else comes from this apparently risible film, there is at least one more terrific Pino Donaggio score in the world for people to enjoy.

Domino is one of Donaggio’s classic thriller scores. It was recorded by a 62-piece orchestra at Galaxy Studios in Belgium, and was conducted by his long-time associate Natale Massara. The opening cue, “The Domino Effect,” is quite superb, opening with a mass of churning, undulating strings, augmented by the subtle hoot of Middle Eastern woodwinds. The piece is filled with dramatic crescendos and classical flourishes that move elegantly around the orchestra, often settling on complementary violins and oboes which are just superb. The second half of the cue yields a more bittersweet theme for piano and strings, languid and rain-soaked, which alternates with a more elegant duet for strings and woodwinds. The whole thing is classy and much more sophisticated than one would have expected, considering the nature of the film and the multitude of problems it had.

Donaggio’s music has long-been described as sounding ‘Herrmannesque,’ and a great deal of the score is clearly steeped in the stylistic choices and compositional mannerisms of the great man. These Herrmannesque touches combine with Donaggio’s own penchant for dark, brooding orchestral thriller writing, which he has brought to so many scores over the years. Some of the middle-album cues do become a little bogged down in a sort of pervasive mood of tension and agitation, which undoubtedly works in the film, but unfortunately causes the album to drag a little; it’s all a sort of wash of string chords, synth elements, little hits from the brass, and little muted woodwind accents. Having said that, one or two cues do stand out. “The Roof/Dizziness” uses some aggressive, staccato electronic elements in combination with punchy brass rhythmic ideas and string flurries that are effective at creating an anxious mood. “Unexpected Beginnings” uses some pulsating piano clusters, pizzicato textures, and a hammered dulcimer to give the whole thing a sense of classic mystery.

“The Apartment” builds to an explosive finale, while “Haunting Guilt” is more of a slow burn, wherein darkly twisted strings build to a big revelatory crescendo. “Useless Suicide” is thick with menace, and is offset by exotic woodwinds that eventually explode with brassy drama and dark energy. “The Decoy” starts out with a sound that is unexpectedly elegant, gentle strings and woodwinds combining to create a sense of intimate drama peppered with trepidation. However, the cue’s finale contains an unexpected flurry of almost Barry-esque jazz, with muted trumpets fading in and out beneath the strings.

The neo-John Barry influences continue into the score’s two romantic pieces, which appear to accompany the relationship between Coster-Waldau’s character Christian and his Thrones co-star Carice van Houten, who plays his murdered partner’s former lover. “Dangerous Distractions” uses pianos and searching strings to create a mood of shadowy sexual tension, while “Death of a Dream” explores similar melodic ideas in a performance for solo piano.

Perhaps the most interesting idea in the score is the use of Middle Eastern textures to augment the western orchestra, as a way to give a little bit of life and exotic color to the plot point about ISIS terrorists on the loose in Scandinavia. Donaggio hints at their use in the opening cue, but it’s not until “Gathering Clues” that the sound really comes to fruition. Here, Donaggio uses exotic, evocative Arabic vocals, underpinned with a vaguely threatening subliminal growl of metallic percussion. The music is fast paced, urgent, and very well-constructed. Later, in cues such as “Deadly Interrogation” and “The Indoctrination,” Donaggio uses Middle Eastern woodwind sounds to create a more thoughtful atmosphere, although it appears that these are synth samples rather than live instruments. Things really come to a head in the “Carnage Festival” cue, where the Arabic vocals and the woodwinds turn into something much more modernistic and aggressive, combining with flourishing strings and dancing to contemporary electronic beats.

The finale cue, “The Final Clash,” is an homage to Ravel’s Bolero, a piece that De Palma clearly loves as he had made it a recurring trademark in scores such as Femme Fatale and Passion. Here, the recurring sound of the Middle Eastern woodwinds is joined by a bank of serpentine strings, all of which is underpinned by the famous tapped snare drum tattoo from Ravel’s classic. It’s an audacious, brilliant arrangement of the piece, which also serves as a little meta in-joke for De Palma fans, considering that this is now at least the third time De Palma has used this idea in the conclusion of one of his films.

If nothing else, the score for Domino should remind us that even the most poorly-reviewed and troubled productions can yield superb scores, if only we take the trouble to look beyond the critical consensus and seek these things out for ourselves. It’s also another timely reminder – as if one were needed – that Pino Donaggio is still a vital and creative film composer worthy of attention, and who at the age of 77 is still writing the sort of music that endeared him to so many film music aficionados in the 1970s. Anyone who enjoys Donaggio’s classic thriller scores, especially the ones where he leans heavily on the ghost of Bernard Herrmann, and who would be interested in seeing how that combines with the contemporary sounds of the Middle East, will find this score to be a worthwhile diversion.

Buy the Domino soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Domino Effect (6:02)
  • The Roof/Dizziness (4:28)
  • Dangerous Distractions (1:36)
  • Racing to the Unknown (3:25)
  • Unexpected Beginnings (1:03)
  • The Apartment (3:26)
  • Haunting Guilt (1:35)
  • Working the Plan (1:49)
  • Gathering Clues (1:59)
  • Useless Suicide (2:28)
  • Deadly Interrogation (2:56)
  • Fatal Traces (1:26)
  • The Indoctrination (2:19)
  • Death of a Dream (2:12)
  • Carnage Festival (2:01)
  • The Decoy (4:37)
  • The Final Clash (4:58)

Running Time: 48 minutes 19 seconds

Varese Sarabande (2019)

Music composed by Pino Donaggio. Conducted by Natale Massaro. Orchestrations by Natale Massaro. Recorded and mixed by Patrick Lemmens and Marco Streccioni. Album produced by Pino Donaggio.

  1. Gary Smith
    August 4, 2019 at 11:56 am

    I’ve just watched Domino for the second time and there is nothing risible about it. It’s a perfectly good thriller and undeserving of the negative reviews. Everything said about the score is true. It’s really wonderful. Too bad it’s been consigned to just downloads instead of a proper CD but something is obviously much better than nothing at all.

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