I'm a sucker for the steady-cam. Scorsese's famous
entry-to-the-nightclub scene in Goodfellas that was so perfectly aped
by Jon Favreau and co. in the wonderful Swingers is probably still the
daddy, but the shot that glides around Mark Wahlberg to the sultry
strains of 'Best of my Love' in Boogie Nights runs it pretty close. For
sheer audacity though, you need look no further than the opening
section of Brian De Palma's Snake Eyes.
I own a thesaurus and am fairly adept at the old 'Shift+F7' trick, but this scene left me clutching thin air for superlatives. The beauty is, it comes from nothing. The film opens up on ground that is not so much well trodden as mercilessly stamped upon: A local news reporter helpfully sets the scene for all her faithful viewers and of course, for all of us too.
But from the moment she hands over to her colleague inside an Atlantic City casino, banality is banished. What follows is a mesmerising, one-take, directorial tour de force. It is fight night and we follow bent copper Rick Santoro (Nicolas Cage) as he swaggers around making shady deals and collaring nefarious snitches for bribes and pay-offs. He checks in on heavyweight boxer Lincoln Tyler (Stan Shaw) who is preparing for the feature bout and then goes in to the arena. There he meets up with old chum Kevin Dunne (Gary Sinise) who is head of security for the evening and settles down for the action.
The fight doesn't last long. Tyler is caught by a massive haymaker in the first round and windmills backwards. At the same time a sniper high in the rafters takes aim and assassinates the US Defence Secretary who is seated just behind Santoro. Chaos ensues and the curtain closes on the first act with the camera swirling upwards at the end of its long journey. Unbelievably fifteen minutes have passed by the time De Palma shouts cut.
Impressive stuff. Indeed, De Palma seems so pleased with the shot that he decides to hang the whole movie on it, revisiting events from different perspectives using flashback and CCTV footage as Santoro tries to piece together what has happened.
Sadly, from such high, heady beginnings, Snake Eyes has a long way to fall. And fall it does. Spectacularly. Nose-dives would be a better assessment.
Cage does his best, rolling out both familiar personas: the extravagant clown and the intense, introspective everyman, but he can't fight his way through a clunker of a plot.
Conspiracy-wise, I don't suppose it would be an outrageous spoiler for me to mention that Dunne is up to his neck in it. If you want to shroud your movie in ambiguity, you are probably better off not casting Gary Sinise as the villain of the piece. Let's face it: he's no Jimmy Stewart. Sinise must be one of the shiftiest looking men on the planet the furrowed brow, those furtive eyes - the military uniform simply tops off the caricature of a disillusioned ex-soldier with a chip on his shoulder. I wouldn't buy a used car from him, let alone put him in charge of security of an event attended by a major dignitary.
The acting is not bad, the cinematography remains slick and glossy throughout even the direction is solid and unpretentious but the lesson here is that nothing will work if you don't have a story. This is insipid nonsense that meanders along pointlessly and then confusingly and abruptly just ends. There is no steady build up of tension and no devious twist. Instead we have a bizarre and strangely out of place postscript which is probably an attempt to cleverly keep the camera rolling beyond the standard good triumphing over evil, lovers clinch, stretch out into widescreen and roll credits finale that closes most action flicks.
It backfires spectacularly. Rather than being innovative and bittersweet, the last scene is irritating and mildly deflating. Action heroes are meant to be flawed, we don't want to watch them screwing up their lives, we know they are gamblers and alcoholics. I would rather see them save the day, kiss the girl and I'll take the rest on faith thank you very much.
Action / Crime / Drama / Mystery / Thriller
Action / Crime / Drama / Mystery / Thriller
Ricky Santoro is a flamboyant and corrupt Atlantic City cop with a dream: become so well connected that he can become mayor. In lieu of that, he'll settle for keeping his comfortable lifestyle. On the night of the heavyweight boxing championship, Rick becomes mixed up in the assassination of the Secretary of Defense, an assassination involving his best friend. Becoming the investigating officer in the case, Rick soon uncovers a conspiracy to kill the Secretary and a mysterious woman in white. The conspiracy was shocking, but not half as shocking as the identity of its mastermind.
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September 15, 2013 at 02:33 PM