History in the Movies: ‘Domino’

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is only sort of accurate.

History in the Movies / By Cathy Schultz

“Based on a true story. Sort of.”

Those words open the new movie, “Domino,” a wild ride of a film that chronicles the life of Domino Harvey, a child of Hollywood privilege who became a bounty hunter in 1990s Los Angeles.

Is there truth to this tale? Not much. That is, it’s not “true” in the manner that most biopics strive for. Recent films on Ray Charles, Howard Hughes and Alexander the Great (among others) offer us linear, predictable, fairly accurate portrayals of those lives. Mostly true, with just a bit of fudging for dramatic license.

But “Domino” is a skewed, nonlinear memoir that readily abandons historical reality to engage in fantastic flights of fantasy. Even its look contributes to its surreal take on Domino’s life. The feverish editing, MTV-style cinematography and saturated colors create the impression that the whole production crew was operating under the influence while making this film. What results is not exactly a biopic, more like a biopic on an acid trip.

Yet ironically, that approach may offer more “truth” about Domino’s life than a straight biopic might. For the real Domino Harvey struggled for years with a drug addiction, a fact almost entirely glossed over in this film.

“Domino” is fast, funny and weirdly mesmerizing, as well as violent, disjointed and often incoherent, a lot like the actual Domino Harvey.

Q. Who was Domino Harvey?

A. The movie follows the key bullet points (no pun intended) of Domino’s biography. She was the daughter of Vogue model Pauline Stone (whose name is changed here) and Hollywood matinee idol Laurence Harvey. There’s a nicely subtle reference to her father when, during a bust at a squalid house, a TV in the background is showing Laurence Harvey’s scenes in “The Manchurian Candidate.”

Domino worked briefly as a model before answering an advertisement to become a bounty hunter at a bail bonds agency. The adrenalin rush of the job suited her. The next 15 years of her life (she died at 35 this past June of a drug overdose) involved guns, knives and arresting people. And just as in the movie, she predominately worked with two male partners named Ed and Choco.

Q. Was she English? Or was her accent simply because Keira Knightley was cast to play her?

A. The accent was real. Harvey grew up in London, and didn’t move to California until she was 19.

Q. Was there a reality show made about Domino’s bounty hunting exploits?

A. The apparent absurdity of this notion should rule out the possibility of it being true. A reality TV show about bounty hunters? Are you kidding?

Well, maybe not so absurd after all. Domino Harvey didn’t actually get her own reality show, but a bounty hunter named Duane “Dog” Chapman has one. “Dog” airs on the A&E network of all places.

Q. So, the film’s whole convoluted plot involving the former stars of Beverly Hills 90210 hosting the “Bounty Squad” was an invention?

A. Completely. Ian Ziering and Brian Austin Green were very funny here playing themselves and were amazingly good-natured about mocking their own images.

But, in fact, the whole “Bounty Squad” reality show subplot, which made up at least half of the movie, was when the film took a hard left turn into absurdity. There was nothing real in the film’s escapades involving celebrity hostages, armored truck robberies, thieves dressed as the First Ladies, spectacular RV crashes in the Nevada desert and the destruction of Las Vegas’s Stratosphere Hotel. Often funny, but not real.

And the severed arm with the tattoo of a safe combination on it? Nope. They made that one up, too.

Q. So, Domino’s bounty hunting exploits probably weren’t as exciting as shown in the film?

A. Probably not. For one thing, she never did a lap dance to defuse a gang standoff, as shown here. And a fair number of the fugitives she helped arrest were unarmed, two-bit petty criminals, not gang members armed with AK-47s.

Unlike the nonstop action seen here, being a bounty hunter is not only about busting down doors while screaming obscenities and wielding shotguns.

But to find out what else it is all about, I might have to start watching A&E’s reality show, “Dog.” Surely that should provide me with an accurate portrayal of a real-life bounty hunter.

Well, sort of.

Cathy Schultz, Ph.D., is a history professor at the University of St. Francis in Illinois. You can reach her through her Web site at www.stfrancis.edu/historyinthemovies.