Snake Eyes

Not so much a snake in the grass as a wee touch of class.

Released in 1998, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 15 Jan 2004 by Craig Eastman
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Brian De Palma. Something of a rut at the moment. Since the risible Mission to Mars in 2000 he's been keeping a relatively low profile. That one duff movie should temporarily sink the man who gave us Carlito's Way, Scarface and The Untouchables is something of a shocker, especially considering Snake Eyes, a movie which hardly set the box office alight in 1998 but which, on return viewing, turns out to be quite the understated gem. Nic Cage is on top flambuoyant form as Rick Santoro, a corrupt Atlantic City cop who's as bent as the scumbags he beats up for their drug money. Attending the Powell Atlantic City Arena on the night of a huge Pay Per-View title fight between boxer Lincoln Tyler (Stan Shaw) and his Italian-American opponent, Santoro is the guest of his old school friend Kevin Dunne (Gary Sinise), now a Commander in the Navy and a high-profile member of the Ministry of Defence. Dunne is in charge of protection duties for Defense Secretary Charles Kirkland (Joel Fabiani), another of the fight's high-profile attendees whose involvement in a new missile defense system has brought a few nutters out of the woodwork

Everything seems to be going swimmingly; Santoro has blagged three grand out of small time crook Cyrus (Luis Guzman), he's hit on one of the Ring Girls, his bit on the side is pouring honey in his ear over the mobile phone and he's got a front row seat to the biggest fight of the year. And then an assassin pumps a couple of rounds into Kirkland. As all hell breaks loose in the arena, everything begins to seem a little suspect. Dunne is off chasing after a gorgeous redhead and has shot the assassin dead, Tyler is looking about in panic after supposedly being KO'd, and moments earlier a girl in a white dress was overheard telling the Minister he'd be sorry. What web of trickery and deceit is this!?

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De Palma is a director arguably better known for his technical proficiency than his ability to wrangle actors, and there's certainly plenty of assorted eye-candy on offer in Snake Eyes to cement his reputation for the former. The movie opens with an incredible ten minute, single-take tracking shot as Santoro arrives at the arena, hassles various scumbags and betting agents then ascends to the arena floor, making his way around the ring to meet Dunne. There's more virtuoso camerawork later in a shot that travels across a floor of the arena hotel showing the occupants of various appartments indulging in their activities, and some brilliant 70s-inspired split screen action where important events run in parallel, influencing each other as they go. Yes sir, there's plenty De Palma razzle-dazzle here, enough in fact to make the movie enjoyable purely from a technical standpoint.

To indulge too heavily in sinful pleasures of camerawork and logistics would be to miss out on a genuinely thrilling exercise in suspense however, as many critics at the time of the film's release seem to have done. Thanks to a number of solid performances from the supporting cast, the film's admittedly far-fetched premise is not beyond suspension of disbelief as the engrossing narrative succeeds in rewarding repeat viewing. Cage is on fine form, here in his patented Showboating mode, full of energy, manic gesturing and an assortment of entertaining whooping noises. That is, of course, until the assassination attempt whereafter Santoro does actually prove his detective credentials. The character's transformation from carefree attention-seeker to a man forced to weigh up his corrupt choices against an increasingly burdened conscience is handled sufficiently well enough by Cage to ensure some measure of sympathy; no mean feat when our first impression is of a relatively obnoxious shit.

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Sinise dusts off his snarl to disguise one or two inadequacies in the script, and while it might not be the best-written role he's encountered he's saved by the distraction afforded the audience by the likes of Stan Shaw and the ever-reliable Luis Guzman. Perhaps the weakest link is Carla Gugino, who is somewhat wasted on a role that merely requires her to look pretty and sob a bit near the end. By and large, though, De Palma fashions a satisfying web of mystery that his cast do well to carve out their own little niches in. The one large flaw this reviewer finds it hard to overcome is a muddled grand finale that feels oddly unsatisfying, and, like the director's other reecent thriller Mission: Impossible, as though it's been taken from a different film entirely.

Forgive these minor indiscretions though and you can look forward to a techno-thriller that delivers more than one suspects on first impressions alone, bolstered by a couple of good twists, larger than life performances and some fine scoring by Ryuichi Sakamoto. If it's 'one of those nights' and there's nothing decent on the box you could certainly do a lot worse than slither up on the couch and check out Snake Eyes.

Disko has awarded this movie 4 out of 5 Fralkafranolicinisms.

Brian De Palma
Cast list:
Nicolas Cage (Rick Santoro)
Gary Sinise (Kevin Dunne)
Carla Gugino (Julia Costello)
John Heard (Gilbert Powell)