Retro Film Review: Snake Eyes (1998)
(SPECIAL NOTE: Capsule version of the review is available here.)
In 1970s Brian De Palma was seen as a New Hollywood genius in the rank of Hitchock. In 1980s he received a lot of notoriety for his alleged obsession with violence and too much misogyny in his work. In 1990s De Palma was seen as a typical Hollywood hack who cared about style while ignoring substance. Through all those decades De Palma didn't change much of artistic sensibilities. Changes came from Hollywood and quality of De Palma's films simply reflected the quality of scripts being given by the studios. One of the most telling examples of that could be found in De Palma's 1998 thriller Snake Eyes.
Protagonist of the film is Nick Santoro (played by Nicolas Cage), Atlantic City homicide detective who cheats his wife, likes to gamble and shakes down small-time dealers in order to finance such activities. One stormy night he goes to elite casino to attend major boxing match. There he meets Kevin Dunne (played by Gary Sinise), US Navy Commander and his old friend, now working as a chief of security for Defence Secretary Charles Kirkland (played by Joel Fabiani) who is attending the match. When Lincoln Tyler (played by Stan Shaw), the champion and Santoro's favourite, inexplicably gets knocked down Santoro has got only few moments to contemplate his financial loss. Assassin's bullet claims the life of Defence Secretary and Santoro immediately starts homicide investigation in order to find the killer and save his friend's career. Problem is in the fact that he must keep some 14,000 suspects at the hotel premises and that some of the witnesses, including mysterious blonde (played by Carla Gugino) who spoke with Kirkland prior to assassination, tend to disappear.
De Palma's films, especially those made in past decade, tend to be remembered mostly because of the single scene in which De Palma shows his magnificent craftsmanship. In case of Snake Eyes this scene happens at the very beginning - it is 20 minutes long continuous shot during which we are introduced to the plot's setting and all major characters. What follows that scene is disappointing, although De Palma at times tries to remind audience how great director he is. His skills, however, can't compensate for the flaws of overambitious script by David Koepp. At first glance, the idea was intriguing - murder mystery involving 14,000 possible suspects and plot that takes place almost in real time. But Koepp quickly succumbed to Hollywood clichés and the mystery turned into just another sub-par government conspiracy thriller. To make things even worse, identity of the killer is revealed too early and what follows are couple of increasingly implausible scenes that culminate with terrible ending and corny epilogue. Acting in the film varies in quality; Cage is solid as corrupt policeman on the road to redemption, while Gary Sinise wastes his talent in another role of villain. Stan Shaw is utterly unconvincing as professional boxer, while Carla Gugino would be remembered for her looks rather than acting. In first 20 minutes Snake Eyes promises to be a masterpiece only to succumb to Hollywood mediocrity, just like its director.
RATING: 4/10 (+)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.films.reviews on April 26th 2004)
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Movie URL: https://www.themoviedb.org/movie/8688-snake-eyes