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This is a wonderful experience. Never mind that the acting is poor and the
story weak --that was never the point. This film was made because DePalma
knows how to make his camera dance and wanted to make a film based on that
A central question in most art concerns the role of the viewer. This dominated easel painting, then was the center of evolution of the novel and now sits at the core of thought about film. Is the viewer an omniscient God, or can the viewer be fooled like a person? Is the viewer a passive observer, or does she `walk' with the participants as an invisible character? So many clever questions.
DePalma thinks the camera is a whole new thing, The camera is a type of character, part narrator, part actor, part god. It can lie, be fooled, search curiously, document, play jokes. So this is a film about the camera's eyes. `Snake' both because the camera can snake around following Cage, going places that Cage cannot, but also `snake' because the camera sees with forked tongue.
So we have one seemingly continuous shot of the key scene, which is played first from Cage's perspective, then the fighter's, the Navy guy, the Girl, then the cop again, and finally the `flying eye.' Along the way, every eye trick DePalma can think of is woven in:
--The girl's glasses are crushed so she sees less than the audience
--The whole mess is about what a satellite sees
--The casino has 1000 cameras which our own eyes coopt
--The thing is framed by the TV eye
--God-like, we scan over several hotel rooms while Cage and Sinese are stuck in the hallway maze
--The whole thing is in real time, as if you were living in the action
This is masterfully intellectual. See it. Forget the story.
Overblown, overdirected, overacted: that's why I always enjoy DePalma's
movies. He made the statement that the camera lies 24 times a second, and
SNAKE EYES plays on that theme.
De Palma's camera is constantly in motion, roaming through the arena, casino , and hotel as if it had a life of its own. At the beginning of the film we watch Nick Santoro (Nicolas Cage) as he swims through the sewer (his words) that is the Atlantic City casino world. He tells us, "This isn't a beach town. It's a sewer. It's my sewer, I am the king."
It's literally a dark and stormy night. A hurricane (a tv reporter is pressured to refer to it as a 'tropical depression' on the air) is coming ashore, and 14,000 people are gathered at a casino complex to watch a prizefight.
There's a shooting during the fight, and Cage orders the exits sealed; who would go outside into a hurricane remains a mystery, but anyhow. There are two mysterious women involved in the incident, and as time passes he realizes that there were lots of people involved, possibly even his longtime friend Navy Commander Dunne (Gary Sinese) who is as straight-arrow as Cage's character is sleazy.
By the end of the story Cage is working toward redemption- even though during the early part of the film it's made clear that he sees everything as having a price.
There's one point where he is offered a million dollars to reveal where one of the women (she knows a lot- too much- about a defense contract, and was talking to the Secretary of Defense when he was shot) is hiding. And there 's a very real chance that he might give in, or be unable to protect her when the danger gets intense.
Men in De Palma's films have a way of failing to come through for women in critical situations. An executive couldn't save his wife in OBSESSION. A young actor couldn't protect a mysterious, beautiful woman in BODY DOUBLE. The nicest guy in school couldn't keep the outcast/prom queen CARRIE from humiliation and its awful consequences. In the superb BLOW OUT a movie soundman rescues a young woman from a sinking car early in the story, but is too late to save her from a madman at the film's conclusion.
So there is no guarantee of a happy ending. Self doubt weighs heavily in De Palma's films, and often people's best efforts are to no avail.
Admittedly David Koepp and De Palma's script is something of a problem. There's a complex conspiracy underfoot, and conspiracies are low on my list of compelling things- I got burned out on them in the seventies.
Far more compelling is the great fun that Cage has with his character. Boy, does he get to chew scenery here. Constantly in motion, talking on his cell phone (even during a hurricane; some of my friends can't use theirs when a cloud passes over the sun), interacting with the low life characters around the casino.
And, oh, does DePalma have fun with the whole thing. Of course, nothing is what it seems to be. He retells the action from the viewpoint of this or that character: we sometimes literally see what happened through that character's eyes. An important setpiece in which we finally see what really happened in clear perspective uses split screen imagery- and in the theatre where we saw SNAKE EYES the use of stereo sound was an integral part of the seperation of images.
For all the bravado of his performance, I was impressed with Cage's ability and willingness to share the screen with other actors. In some of the retellings he is a supporting character or featured extra, and as an actor he's more than willing to let our attention shift to someone else. A lesser actor might have been afraid of that shift of focus. Way to go, Nicolas. That's a real sign of maturity as an actor.
So did I buy into De Palma's bag of tricks? Yup, 100%. It's nice to see a movie that isn't afraid of the old razzle-dazzle. I do appreciate subtlety and complex ideas- that's why I'm a voracious reader. I really don't think I'd enjoy De Palma directing an adaptation of a Jane Austen novel or REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST. The Merchant- Ivory people do that sort of thing so nicely. But it was nice to sit back for an hour and a half and let a master showman use illusion to fool us and let our eyes fool our brains.
On a five scale, Pops gives it four slot machines.
Most people didn't like this movie, from what I have heard and read
over the years. Some of my friends who saw it didn't like it either.
For some reason, I did, and that was despite a few things I normally
don't put up with (too much usages of the Lord's name in vain and the
usual anti-military agenda.)
However, I found this a very fast-moving, involving story with Nicholas Cage playing an extremely interesting person: "Rick Santoro," a guy who acts like a complete crazy man at the beginning but slowly gets it together as the film goes on. Gary Sinise plays his normal corrupt role (this was before his CSI: New York days) and Carla Gugino was very easy on my eyes.
Brian DePalma directed this, so you know it's going to be stylishly shot, too. This looks really, really good on the recently-released Blu-Ray.
All the characters are interesting, actually. One complaint I agree with: the ending was a bit weak and detracts from the story. It's a rough film but edgy and interesting. Don't be discouraged reading a lot of negative reviews about this. It's good entertainment.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Police detective Rick Santoro (Nick Cage) attends a championship boxing
match. Also attending is Navy Commander Kevin Dunne (Gary Sinise),
Rick's best friend. During the boxing match a bullet hits and kills US
Secretary of Defense Charles Kirkland. What follows is a real-time
mystery in which Santoro and Dunne seal off the boxing arena and work
together to find the assassins. As the film progresses, Santoro
gradually comes to realise that there's a conspiracy behind the
assassination and that Dunne is involved. Santoro, an unscrupulous cop
with a history of taking bribes, is thus faced with a choice: accept a
million dollar payoff to keep his mouth shut, or arrest his buddy.
Stanley Kubrick once observed that "most films don't have any purpose other than to mechanically figure out what people want and to construct some artificial form of entertainment for them." People seek the familiar. Whether it be a familiar genre, actors, or a specific kind of emotional gratification, films have become delivery systems for the feelings that we crave.
But director Brian De Palma is a bit of an anomaly. Like most of his thrillers, "Snake Eyes" has its fangs firmly in the past - in this case the conspiracy thrillers of Hitchcock, and Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil" - and yet annoys those looking for familiarity precisely because De Palma is relentless in bending the film toward his own private concerns. And so, typical of De Palma, this is a film in love with penetrating space, with shifting points of view, with explorations of memory, vision and the corruption (match fixing, blackmail, assassination, political spin) festering beneath all glitz. The script, written by David Koepp, itself serves only as a framework for De Palma to indulge in his fetish-like obsession with seeing, subjectivity and the fallibility of images.
Unsurprisingly, "Eyes" begins with a shot of a globe shaped statue. It's a nod to "Touch of Evil's" introductory Universal International logo, another trashy B movie in which a seedy tale of moral responsibility intersects with much camera wizardry. De Palma's camera then picks up a fumbling news reporter, her off screen director and a bank of television monitors, one of which shows Santoro jokingly addressing a camera. What then follows is a 13 minute single take in which De Palma gives us a tour of a boxing arena, familiarises us with its layout, and introduces us to the film's key players.
The film spells out its concerns with this very first shot. The reporter's monologue serves as a precursor to the elaborate long-take that follows. One slip and everything must be restarted/re-staged for the eye. The film is a technical exercise, a juggling match, framed (begining and end) by the TV image. The globe and the thunder storm will themselves appear later during the film's finale and Cage himself is introduced as a vessel designed to command the lens. He's a loudmouth centre of attention who, quite literally, learns to pay attention to things outside himself.
Much of the rest of the movie revisits this 13 minutes single-take from the perspective of different characters and cameras, none of whose optics can be trusted. Like most De Palma films, "Eyes" is thus primarily concerned with the dishonesty of the image. His camera is a snake, constantly prowling, searching, scheming and lying. One sequence, which recalls Jack Terry's patient rewind-and-play in "Blow Out", has Santoro watching a boxing KO from varying angles, as he tries to come to some measure of truth. Like Antonioni's "Blow Up", the film overwhelms us with its sheer number of lenses, points of views and visual trickery. A person can lie. A camera can lie. But a hundred cameras will add up to the truth more surely than a hundred fallible eyewitness accounts.
The first 70 minutes of "Snake Eyes" are crammed with bravura set pieces and exhilarating camera work. The real star here is De Palma, whose camera prowls the arena with relish, dipping, ducking and whizzing back and forth. Cage, his character torn from the pages of pulp magazines, does his best to match De Palma's bravado. His performance is hilarious; seedy but with heart.
During the film's final ten minutes, however, the film loses steam. There's no climax. But this ending was never intended. Like Orson Welles, much of De Palma's filmography has been tampered. "Obsession" had it's paedophillic sub-story removed by composer Bernard Herrmann, a prudish Tom Cruise had all the romance and sex scenes cut out of "Mission Impossible", "Black Dahlia" lost over 50 minutes of footage, "Mission to Mars" was subject to budget cuts which resulted in an abrupt last act and "Bonfire" was so rife with confusion that a book was written (The Devil's Candy) detailing De Palma's troubles with studios. "Get To Know Your Rabbit" and "Redacted" would face similar problems.
The original ending of "Eyes" tied into the first shot, and included a massive action/CGI sequence involving the previously seen globe and a hurricane. This sequence was similar in tone to the end of "Femme Fatale", in which noir fate comes crashing down. But the studio's balked at the numbers and a cheaper ending was quickly tacked on.
Still, the current ending is interesting in the way it pushes hard and fast past a typical happy ending. Rather than being redeemed, Santoro becomes a hero, only to be promptly brought up on corruption charges. In De Palma's world, past sins are never forgotten.
8.9/10 - Spielberg and Fincher would later hire screenwriter David Koepp for "War of the Worlds" and "Panic Room", two films likewise preoccupied with cameras and space. Alfonso Cuaron would cite "Eyes" as an influence on "Children of Men" and De Palma's overhead "God's eye" tracking shot would be borrowed by Spielberg in "Minority Report". "Eyes" made the top of many lists in France, but is treated with scorn every where else.
Worth multiple viewings.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
** 1/2 out of ****
For nearly 80 minutes Snake Eyes is fascinating entertainment. Not only is the storyline engrossing, but the camerawork is truly brilliant and the behind-the-scenes look of a boxing match is compelling. Add to this two of Hollywood's most talented actors in Nicolas Cage and Gary Sinise and you'd expect an edge-of-the-seat, fast-paced, plot-twisting thriller. Well, for the most part the film works, but unfortunately bogs down with quite a bad ending.
The film takes place during a boxing match in Atlantic City, which is currently hounded by a raging tropical storm. Detective Rick Santoro (Nicolas Cage) is there to place some bets and watch the game with his best friend, Commander Kevin Dunne (Gary Sinise), the same man who is also guarding the Secretary of Defense.
However, something goes wrong, Dunne is taken off position by a red-haired woman, and the Secretary is shot by an assailant. Dunne, in turn, manages to take down the assassin, but an another crisis occurs when all the spectators try to leave. They're locked in, thus holding 14,000 eyewitnesses inside while Santoro tries to figure out what's truly going on with the help of a mysterious young woman (Carla Gugino).
I've always been a fan of Brian De Palma and his films. His movies are never truly perfect masterpieces (then again, not much is), but this director can make anything seem interesting, even if only in a visual sense. With Snake Eyes, the accomplished director has created his most visually edgy and dazzling film to date, with camerawork that would stun even the most hardened De Palma fan. So much goes on here, to the point where it's exhilarating. The split-screens, first-person POVs, long-tracking shots (thus, the famous 12-minute non-stop opening), aerial views, etc. all make for an enthralling experience, all the more heightened if you're not familiar with De Palma's works.
I remember the previews and commercials to this film, and they gave the film the look of a terrific thriller with a dynamic script. It doesn't quite happen like that. There aren't particularly any plot twists (unless you count that whole "phantom punch" but that was given away in the previews) and the identity of the villain is laughably obvious. The worst thing is, the revelation behind the reasons for the shooting don't create much of a sense of paranoia, which was prevalent in another De Palma thriller, Blow Out. Here, the motive is just a standard-issue conspiracy theory. But the worst is saved for last: the ending, which is De Palma's most disappointing to date. I'd rather not say what happens, other than the fact that the weather gets a little too involved.
By this point, I seem to hold the film mostly in negative regard, but like I stated, the direction is breathtaking. In addition, the performances are often terrific. The standouts are, of course, Nicolas Cage and Gary Sinise. Cage creates an entertaining character in Rick Santoro, one who initially starts off as a wild maverick but settles down to a more calm and composed person. Sinise is equally superb as his best friend, Dunne. Though this film did put him in danger of typecasting, he did play an entirely different sort of character in Brian De Palma's most recent film, Mission to Mars. The supporting cast is solid, with Carla Gugino getting the most substantial screentime of the other performers. She's decent, but is given little to work with.
Obviously, Snake Eye's best moments are when De Palma gets to strut his stuff, and he does manage to put in some suspense, though not to the best of his abilities. I mean, this is the man who crafted the train station shootout in The Untouchables, the bullet train finale in Mission: Impossible, the chainsaw scene and the bloody finale of Scarface, and the spacewalk in Mission to Mars. Here, we get a chase as Cage's character and the villain are after Gugino without the other knowing there's actually a pursuit. It's a mildly clever sequence, but never seems quite as tense as it should be.
I suppose in terms of entertainment value, Snake Eyes does get the job done, but it feels too shallow and superficial to be wholly satisfying. Had the ending matched the previous material, this would have been grand entertainment. What we get is still often first-rate, but is also slightly disappointing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
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.
Yes, I concur, the film has the feature that dooms any movie including Stanley Kubrick's only bomb: THE KILLING. When will directors figure out that temporal streaming or showing the movie from each individuals point of view then trying to tie them all together is an utter disaster. MOMENTO, VANTAGE POINT both suffered from the same fatal flaw. This is still a great movie. It has great moral depth like all of the master Brian De Palma's works. I love two images in this movie. When Rick sees the money on the floor covered in blood, he finally gets it. He understands the price that is paid for that money. What a piece of work, a handful of geniuses could use visuals like that: Leone, Kubrick and Hitch. The other when bleeding from the mouth Rick flings blood on Kevin's medals, see the anger of Kevin's face, yes that is how you got those. What intelligence in the use of imagery to save whole pages of boring dialogue. Also, in an amoral, decadent age it is quite wise to be cryptic. You are not allowed to be openly moral with pagan atavists.
You want to know the theme of the movie? Cage recites it at the end of the movie to Julia; he tells her hundreds of years ago pirates put lights on those rocks to lure ships to their doom. Then they would run out kill them and steal their goods. Rick says the only thing that has changed is that the lights are brighter. De Palma is always attacked for his sex and violence but his films are deeply moral. Everyone remember the black angel of death looming over Nancy Allen's head in BLOW OUT. She had caused another's death and had to be punished. Same with DRESSED TO KILL, watch the innocent little girl stare at Angie Dickinson before she is killed; her promiscuity sealed her doom. De Palma always is deeply moral beneath all the sex and violence like his master: Hitch. Here Kevin's patriotism will not save him from his impending doom, we watch as his masterful planning and meticulous using of people, including Rick, falls apart before his eyes.
Like Hitch, immoral people are punished by the hand of God, through deadly fate. Things just go apart on them. He was so sure Rick was venal beyond redemption; he never understood that, like many slightly evil people, they like the damage done to their advantage carefully kept out of sight. Rick knows what Kevin is saying is true; he knew all his corruption would come out and he would be destroyed but he stammers: I NEVER KILLED ANYONE BEFORE. Kevin tries to reassure him, just do what you do best, look the other way I will take care of it. This is when DePalma has Rick stare at the money soaked in blood upon the floor. What a work of art!!! Yes, I took three stars off for the temporal juxtaposition that wrecks what could have been another BLOW OUT. If you want to see a deeply moral, fast moving, exciting, suspenseful film made by one of our greatest directors, Brian De Palma, watch this movie. Hitch would have loved this movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie caught my attention on cable as I was flipping channels. The
mystery and the setup were great. The placement of suspicious events was
great. At one point, I even commented to myself, "this is a good f---in'
movie!" Boy was I wrong.
As the story unfolded, you wish it didn't. It's a good movie before you find out what's going on. Then the plot holes, cheesy dialogue, outrageously contrived situations, and just plain comical story progression spread like wildfire. It's almost as if someone came up with a great story idea and then left it in the hands of a high school scriptwriting hobbyist.
The investigation of the murder of the US Defense Secretary in front of 14,000 witnesses is left up to one city cop and one military security officer who are best friends? People are running around a casino and being able to stay hidden? I better stop there because if I start listing plot holes and stupid scenarios, we'll never get out of here. I'm trying really hard not to comment on the end. It's like whoever was writing the script got tired of writing and just threw something together so he could rest his fingers and get paid.
However, if you can not focus on the bad writing (kinda like not focusing on a speeding train heading towards you), the style of the film is quite interesting. I liked how the story (terrible as it was) unfolded through the different angles and points of view of different people. The timing and placement of action were executed well.
It's too bad that a movie has to rely on something as minor as a script in order to be good.
I like Gary Sinise. He's a good actor. But unfortunately, he's usually typecast as a bad guy, so I kinda suspected he was involved all along.
Director Brian DePalma has always been excellent at letting the visual image speak for itself (like Hitchcock, with whom he is often compared). In "Snake Eyes", the juxtaposed and multi-angled images are captivating for a while, until you realize how unsuspenseful the story quickly becomes. Once all the key players and plot elements are revealed, the film seems to have nowhere to go and resorts to those hokey flashback devices where we see the events play out differently via each character's recollection. Cage and Sinise do the best they can with the material, but they lack real motivation, mirroring the film's lack of direction. This particularly hurts Sinise's characterization which starts out solid, then is set adrift mid-way through the film, and winds up completely contrived by the end. Overall a disappointment, but maybe not a bad rental if you are a Nicholas Cage fan.
A movie with excellent plot twists combined with outstanding camera work.
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