Review by Gordon Justesen
John Travolta, Connie Nielsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Giovanni Ribisi, Brian Van
Holt, Taye Diggs, Cristian de la Fuente, Dash Mihok, Tim Daly, Roselyn Sanchez,
Harry Connick, Jr.
Director: John McTiernan
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 99 Minutes
Release Date: July 8, 2003
we gotta do is TELL THE STORY RIGHT.”
Basic is without a doubt one of those movies where even prior to watching it,
nothing can go wrong. Here you have an endlessly talented cast, led by none
other than John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, in an engaging military thriller
helmed by veteran action movie director John McTiernan (Die
Hard, The Hunt For Red October). However, what surprised me the most about
the movie is the excessively convoluted screenplay, which can best be described
as either The Usual Suspects Join the Army or Military
Memento. Not since that movie have events unfolded in a sneaky way before
revealing its true self in the final scene, which to a degree, is surprising in
a unique and fresh manner. You’ll either be blown away by the twists and
turns, or you might give up trying to believe, but honestly, I think it would be
difficult to go for the latter.
John Travolta stars
as Tom Hardy, a DEA agent working undercover in Panama who’s called back into
service from his former stomping grounds at a nearby military base. Hardy was
previously a military interrogator, and the very best, and he is requested to
investigate the sudden disappearance of a group of soldiers who vanished while
performing a routine military exercise in the Panamanian jungle. Paired up with
the reluctant Lt. Osborne (Connie Nielsen), Hardy wastes no time in
interrogating the two soldiers who returned safely from the exercise.
squad was led by the notoriously sadistic Sgt. Nathan West (Samuel L. Jackson),
whom Hardy once served under. The surviving soldiers are Dunbar (Brian Van
Holt), who’s held in the interrogation room, and Kendall (Giovanni Ribisi),
who’s being treated at a nearby hospital due to a gun shot wound. The two men
claim everyone else in the unit to be dead either by gunfire or hazardous
weather, since a hurricane was taking place during the events. Sgt. West, a
tough as nails drill instructor, was despised by all of the soldiers in the
unit, so there maybe a possibility that the sergeant may have been taken out by
one of his own men. Plus, since only two out of six soldiers returned, it’s
possible that the four other squad members met similar fates.
The story, which is
no doubt inspired by Rashomon, which
also inspired the similarly themed Courage
Under Fire, delivers two points of view of what happened in the jungle that
led the mysterious disappearance of West and the soldiers. Dunbar’s take on
the events reveals West’s distaste for fellow soldier Pike (Taye Diggs), who
was repeatedly mentally abused by the sergeant ever since basic training.
Soon, the film reveals several other possibilities the other soldier’s
take on the incident, and from that point on, you have absolutely no idea how
the story will unravel, truthfully that is.
In the wake of the
disaster that was Rollerball, it’s
great to see John McTiernan return to form with a far better piece of
entertainment. While Basic doesn’t
rank with the director’s absolute best, it remains a strong directorial
effort. Equal credit should go to screenwriter James Vanderbilt, who’s only
previous writing effort was the screenplay for Darkness
Falls (if you can believe that!). Vanderbilt has woven a most intriguing,
mind-bending mystery of a movie that just gets better and better with each
hardly share any screen time together, Travolta and Jackson are both dynamite.
Jackson, in particular, is superbly menacing as the drill instructor from hell.
So menacing in fact, that he belongs in the same family as Sgt. Hartman from Full
Metal Jacket. As for Travolta, you can tell by watching that he’s having a
blast playing such a cocky smart ass. Hardy is a character who’s a mess
outside of work, but is still active in the brain and well equipped to outsmart
Basic is basically a rockin’ entertaining flick that manages to pull you in
for a rollercoaster ride of twists in turns for a quick 99 minutes. It requires
you to think, but not too much, before putting all the necessary pieces
together, thanks to sharply written, and fitfully deceiver of a screenplay. Sit
back and enjoy, and remember, THEY’RE HERE…BUT THEY’RE NOT HERE.
What a glorious
looking presentation! Columbia Tri Star score big points yet again with a
marvelous looking transfer. The look of the film is sharp and eye catching in
the anamorphic format. John McTiernan is one director who appreciates wide angle
shots, and there are plenty of such here, as are some unique camera angles.
Colors are magnificent as well, ranging from the dark grays of the rain-drenched
jungle sets to the interiors of the military base. Another top-notch transfer to
include in CTS’ lengthy list of great looking discs.
Basic, although mostly a guessing thriller, does have its share of flare and
action, all of which transfer stunningly well with the 5.1 mix. The range is
endless, right from the opening sequence of the army helicopter flying amidst
the forceful rainstorm in Panama. There are numerous suspenseful moments of
shooting, which play out strongly, and dialogue is clear and clean for the
entire presentation. Basically a great
It may not sound
like much, but it hits the exceptional level. Included is a commentary track by
John McTiernan, two featurettes; “Basic: A Director’s Design” and
“Basic: A Writer’s Perspective”. Also included are filmographies and a
trailer, as well as additional trailers for Tears
of the Sun, Identity, Formula 51, XXX, Bad Boys II, and S.W.A.T.