For better or worse, Andrew Dominik is on everyone’s lips following his long-anticipated Marilyn Monroe biopic starring Ana de Armas. Based on Joyce Carol Oates’ eponymous, if also widely disputed, 700-page novel, ‘Blonde’ trails the legendary actress’ trajectory from her troubled childhood, rise to stardom, and tragic death. Upon its world premiere at Venice, when it officially became Netflix’ first NC-17 rated release, the film let loose a firestorm of wrath, dividing critics and audiences alike for its controversial treatment of the blonde bombshell.
The heavy curtain of discourse has closely followed the film and the director for the past few months now, punctuated by an incendiary press tour during which Dominik didn’t exactly do himself any favors. With that being said, the film is bound to become one of the biggest awards contenders by Netflix and registered over 13.4 million views through its first week on streaming.
While the Hollywood gossip mill goes into overdrive, what better time than now to look back and go through Dominik’s already impressive body of work? A quick glance at his films reveal a few traits that ripple throughout most of his films: a penchant for artistic freedom, an obsession for notorious criminals and American idols, top-tier craftsmanship, and an unconditional love for Nick Cave. Without further ado, let’s dive in.
6. This Much I Know to be True (2022)
2022 has been quite an eventful year so far for Mr. Dominik. A few months prior to his hotly anticipated Netflix biopic, the director premiered his second documentary on Australian musician Nick Cave at the Berlin film festival (now available on Mubi). Though ‘This Much I Know to Be True’ can be thoroughly enjoyed in and for itself, it is strongly suggested to check out its lovely companion piece, the 2016 ‘One More Time with Feeling’ first.
Andrew Dominik, who famously used one of Nick Cave-penned songs ‘Release the Bats’ back in his 2000 debut film ‘Chopper’, plunges head-on into the artist’s mind, splitting its focus between Cave and fellow band member Warren Ellis. Shot on the heels of the pandemic, the central musical performances are all captured with dazzling camerawork and intimate detail, intertwined with extended conversation segments that venture on Cave and Ellis’ unique partnership, personal relationship, and unique creative thought process. Whether you’re already a devoted fan of the group or not, the evident passion that bleeds through both in front and behind the camera is enough to resonate with newcomers too.
5. Killing Them Softly (2012)
“America’s not a country. It’s a business. Now fucking pay me.”
Bookended by this bombshell of a monologue delivered by a pitch-perfect Brad Pitt, Andrew Dominik’s fatalistic crime caper is best described as a disconsolate indictment of corporate America. Set at the height of the 2008 Recession, the film plunges the viewer head-on into a crime-infested milieu of hit men, mobsters, illegal bookies, and petty robbers all paddling frantically to keep their head above the water.
Dominik uses a high-stakes poker game and a string of misunderstandings as the baseline to cast an unwavering eye on the systemic failings that continues to rot out North America, suggesting that bureaucratic inertia and corruption ripples through every structure of power, regardless of which side of the law it may stand on. Juxtaposing the ruthless ecosystem of underground mobsters with the callous practices of corporate America makes for a few wryly clever parallels. But the central thesis to the film, as compelling as it is on paper, is hammered ad nauseam throughout the film with the subtlety of a freight train. By the gazillion time Barack Obama’s campaign billboards and victory speeches loom in the background, Dominik’s persuasiveness wears off.
4. Chopper (2000)
A few minutes into Dominik’s irreverent feature-length debut, Mark “Chopper” Read, one of Australia’s most notorious criminals, describes himself as a “normal bloke who likes a bit of torture”.
Loosely adapted from his best-selling memoir book, ‘Chopper’ is a character study on a human dynamo with a rage boiling underneath and who’s incapable of walking the straight and narrow without fumbling himself — and everyone who crosses path with him — into chaotic predicaments. Though not as technically refined as his future outings, the film ticks off many of Dominik’s pet interests; most notably society’s inexorable obsession to celebrity and mythmaking — a thematic underpinning that would later on find a better expression in ‘Jesse James’ and ‘Blonde’.
The film suggests that its volatile protagonist acts the way he does — which is to say, as if the laws of man and nature didn’t apply to him — as a means of building a reputation. During a scene that occurs right after he’s repeatedly stabbed a fellow prison inmate, Chopper is handed a newspaper and, much to his delight, he sees a picture of his mug shot printed right on the front page. “Beethoven had his critics too, Keith,” he candidly says. “See if you can name three of them.” Though the film runs a bit out of steam during its second half, its sustained manic energy and darkly comic tone is enough to keep you engrossed all throughout. But if there’s someone truly holding the fort in this one, that’s Eric Bana, who spent two days living with the real Read and delivers a live-wire performance that rightfully put him on the map as a force to be reckoned with. As long as you tune in to its wavelength, this film is a riot.