Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Snake Eyes

Snake Eyes; Thriller, USA, 1998; D: Brian De Palma, S: Nicolas Cage, Gary Sinise, Carla Gugino, Kevin Dunn, Joel Fabiani, Mike Starr

Atlantic City during a big storm. A shady detective, Rick, got an assignment to guard the Secretary of Defense, Charles Kirkland, during a big boxing match in a arena. During the match, his colleague Kevin leaves his seat while a mysterious woman, Julia, sits next to Kirkland. At that moment, Kirkland is shot and Julia wounded. The police seals off the arena and takes 13.000 viewers to questioning. A Palestinian terrorist is soon identified as the assassin, but Julia explains Rick that his friend Kevin is actually behind everything. Namely, Kevin forged a special Air Guard defense system in order to get it financed by the military, and removed Kirkland as the only obstacle. Rick hides Julia, while Kevin commits suicide because a camera team prevented him from killing them secretly.

"Snake Eyes" is one of those films that deserved a lot more credit then they got, and sadly a large number of the critics didn't even recommend it, but failed to explain exactly why. Indeed, the movie is not flawless, it contains some contrived situations (in one sequence, Julia decides to seduce an average guy who just won in a casino and get into his apartment to hide from Rick by saying "If you don't ... I'll bet ... somebody else will!"), illogical plot holes and a solid, but thin ending, yet they are all not nearly enough of a justification to completely pan the story and ignore her virtues. Quite frankly, even the best films of all times have flaws. One of the things almost all of the critics agreed upon was the movies bravura 13 minutes opening shot filmed in De Palma's classic Steadicam: on a TV screen a female reporter is shown talking about the storm, then the camera moves on to the main protagonist, detective Rick, who jumps like a crazy lunatic expecting the boxing match. Then he travels through the corridors of the arena, catches up some guy who owes him and beats him up, makes a bet and answers a few of his phone calls. He enters the arena just as the boxing match starts and sits next to the Secretary of Defense, just as he is shot from an assassin.

Then the film shifts into the normal tone, equipped with standard shots and editing, but that doesn't mean the authors forgot how to intrigue and make it appealing. By switching the narrative presentation on a different level, "Snake Eyes" also presented the characters in a different perspective - although Rick seemed like a stupid, primitive sleaze ball at first, he ended up being an honest, noble and moral cop, while his elitist colleague Kevin ended up being corrupt, evil and rotten. The whole who-did-it conspiracy plot was already done in previous films, but in this edition it still remained powerful thanks to an interesting visual style, crime atmosphere with a measure, unusual setting inside a boxing arena and the good old fashioned story building. Maybe the critics should have simply confessed the movie was an impressive exercise instead of inventing flaws that are not there.


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