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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lively thriller, but not De Palma's best., 22 Jun. 2009
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This review is from: Snake Eyes [DVD] [1998] (DVD)
No commentary track, no "making of Snake Eyes" feature, very hard to find interviews about this film anywhere in fact "Snake Eyes" seems to have been sent to the Davy Jones locker equivalent of forgotten cinema. Over ten years old it seems to exist as the beginning of a worrying slide at least commercially for it's distinguished director Brian De Palma who has not enjoyed any major success at the box office since 1996 with "Mission Impossible". Yet I seem to have developed a minor obsession with this seemingly unremarkable film, hence this review.

"Snake Eyes" begins with a grandiose tracking shot, a rather long, complicated and quite unforgettable sequence which begins outside the casino in the beginning of a hurricane and finds Richard Santoro, a hot-shot, corrupt Atlantic city cop played by Nicolas Cage, in another high energy performance, strutting his way past television cameras, shaking down a hustler played Luis Guisman for some cash, placing a bet, talking to his wife and flirting with his mistress on his cell phone almost simultaneously and meeting up with his best friend, a naval commander, Kevin Dunne, played by Gary Sinise who happens to be running security for the secretary of defence in attendance at the fight. Once Cage and Sinise sit down talk and the fight starts the mesmerising opening shot is brought to an end just before the secretary is shot (shortly after Sinise left his post having noticed a "suspicious character"). This is the set-up for Brian De Palma's thriller and thanks to Cages motor mouth character and De Palma's camerawork in the opening sequence, which lasts almost thirteen minutes in what appears to be an unbroken shot, together with extras and supporting actors like the ever reliable Kevin Dunne playing a paper view reporter they maintain a remarkable pace and energy that gripped me for all of those thirteen minutes. As soon as this novelty ends however "Snake Eyes" loses much of its urgency.

Once the secretary is down, Santoro is now the acting officer on the case and he assists his childhood buddy Dunne (Sinise) track down three suspects involved in the shooting including, in a relatively early role, Carla Gugino playing a young woman who was talking to the secretary moments before he was killed, a drunk in the crowd who gave the signal for a heavyweight champion in the ring to throw the fight, and a mysterious woman spotted by Sinise. All of them appear to have been involved in a conspiracy to eliminate the secretary who was opposed to the production of a new weapons system that is in some background characters best financial interests. While this aspect of the story is just window dressing that sets up the shooting, there is no big political message here on the part of screenwriter David Koepp ("Jurassic Park"," Mission Impossible", "Carlto's Way") or De Palma himself, it does effectively get the ball rolling

Aside from the mechanisms of the plot that exist only to allow De Palma some fun with his camera the only part of the film that resembles something of an attempt at character development is the friendship between Santoro and Dunne and the questions of loyalty that arise between them over the course of the night, otherwise this is an exercise solely in style and suspense and to achieve that De Palma throws a lot at the screen including that brilliant opening thirteen minute tracking shot, Cage's edgy performance, different people recounting events leading up to the shooting that results in the showing of several alternate perspectives on what they each believed happened, tricked up camera angles, a dynamic score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, the directors trademark split screen technique, and the threat of a hurricane approaching the casino which does play a part, somewhat disastrously in the finale. All these ingredients suit the directors and indeed the audiences craving for style but little of it helps build up any suspense or tension and here is "Snake Eyes" failing, despite Cage and Sinise on good form and De Palma's directorial bravura there's never any real feeling of dread, excitement, shock, or feeling to any of this coupled with an ending that was rushed after a more special effects driven ending was scrapped late in the making of the film that results in a finish that feels too preposterous to go with what's come before it(and somewhat patched together).

There are enjoyable elements here, I liked that the movie is almost entirely contained in the casino, the two leading men give typically strong performances, although Cage doesn't maintain his electrifying energy throughout the film, De Palma's sensational visual style is rarely dull to watch and I have few complaints regarding the first two-thirds in general. It's only once "Snake Eyes" lazily tries to cobble together a dramatic ending that the film really begins to unravel. I believe the original ending (which ILM are still credited for despite it's absence) should have stayed and it would have worked far better than the re-worked ending. Having criticized the botched ending I still give a marginal recommendation to "Snake Eyes" due to the fine work of two excellent actors and a director who consistently produces memorable moments even in his worst films.Imagine Brian De Palma working on a script that matched his technical flair. Wouldn't that be something?
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