Brian De Palma Month: “Snake Eyes”

Happy New Year my fellow cinephiles!  If you follow the tradition, then you are setting New Year’s Resolutions.  One of my resolutions is, “Create a few review series’ and write other projects.”  The “projects” will come later, but I have something much more fun right now… BRIAN DE PALMA MONTH!  Every week of January, I will review 1 to 2 movies from the “master of macabre.”  I watched one of his movies recently, and it left me with the same feeling I felt when I first watched: Inception, A Clockwork Orange, 1982’s The Thing, and the original Star Wars.  That feeling was: passionate obsession (not the creeper kind).  After watching those movies, I immediately had to research the director/writer, and I couldn’t stop watching their movies.  I have seen (and thoroughly loved) movies from De Palma before watching this specific film, but never once have I talked about them.  Time to change that, starting with Snake Eyes!

Snake Eyes is directed by Brain De Palma and written by Brian De Palma and David Koepp.  Stars-Nicolas Cage, Gary Sinise, Carla Gugino, John Heard, and Stan Shaw.  Premise-Undercover detective Rick Santoro (Cage) is caught in the middle of a murder at a boxing ring involving the United States Department of Defense, and a conspiracy.

Just a disclaimer: there is no way I can review every one of his movies, but I can manage eight or so.  I won’t go into spoiler territory (because I want others to see this master’s movies), but this review will contain high amounts of fanboying.

Anyway, this movie is awesome!  From the very first shot, you know Snake Eyes is going to be a stylized, energetic, well-acted thriller.  By the way, this opening shot is 12 (uninterrupted) minutes long, Nic Cage is gleefully over-the-top throughout it, and it sets up every main character, the tone, and the plot in an unbelievably entertaining way (eat your heart out Scorsese).  This tracking shot opening is in many people’s Top Ten Opening Shots lists, and is well-deserving.  Sadly, this is when most of the negative reviews start.  They claim that the rest of the movie is not nearly as astounding as that first shot.  To some extent, they’re right.  It’s kinda like the “Married Life” sequence from Up.  The rest of the movie is good enough, but that one scene is too impressive for its own good, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the movie sucks.

The most impressive things about this movie are the acting and the cinematography.  Cage is gleefully goofy throughout the film (with a few somber moments here and there to balance it out) as he plays a detective with big aspirations, and a crummy life.  Cages’ energy (and humor) combined with the character’s personality create a very sympathetic/relatable character.  Gary Sinise plays a stiff, but devoted government official, and the banter between him and Cage is classic stuff.  Gugino always has an air of mystery around her.  You don’t know if she can be trusted, or who she is until much later.

When you watch a De Palma film, you know you’re in for a ride.  This movie is surprisingly short (90 minutes), and the plot is always moving.  As the mystery of “who orchestrated this and why?” is unraveled, there are a few twists and devastating reveals.  Unfortunately, that is where the movie falls flat.  The last 10 minutes is extremely flawed.  Can’t say much, but there is more than one inconsistency, and the arc of one of the characters felt incomplete.  But those are minor problems.

Snake Eyes was De Palma’s last 90s movie, it was also the movie that followed up Mission: Impossible (another reason critics didn’t like this one).  Sure, the rest of the movie isn’t as stellar as the opening; sure the story isn’t very “important” or dramatic.  This movie is a perfectly enjoyable, charmingly acted, original, tense thriller.  I’d say it did its job pretty dang well.  Snake Eyes gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A-.

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