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SNAKE EYES

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Nicolas Cage, Gary Sinise, Carla Gugino, John Heard, Stan Shaw, Kevin Dunn
Director: Brian De Palma
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Features: See Review
Length: 98 Minutes
Release Date: February 16, 1999

Film ***1/2

Brian De Palma has long been the Alfred Hitchcock of his generation, or at least since the days of Hitchcock, and if you doubt that, look no further than Snake Eyes for proof. He makes movies the same way that magicians perform magic tricks, leaving you, the viewer, amazed at what your eyes are gazing upon on the screen. Mix in two strong acting talents, such as that of Nicolas Cage and Gary Sinise, and you know you are in for a treat. Though Iíll be the first to admit, the result of the movie isnít what it couldíve been, but by the point I had seen enough of the movie to say that I found Snake Eyes to be a rousing, visually dazzling entertainment.

The plot of the movie involves an assassination of a political figure that occurs during a boxing match in a luxurious hotel/casino in Atlantic City. Attending the fight is crooked police detective Rick Santoro, played by a wonderfully hyperactive Nicolas Cage. Santoro is attending the event with lifelong friend Kevin Dunne (Gary Sinise). Dunne is a highly decorated naval commander who is also in charge of security of the US Secretary of Defense, who is also attending the fight, and seated right behind the two men. Soon a gunshot is fired, causing the crowd of fans to flee in fright, and thus begins a murder investigation with a possible conspiracy hiding in the shadows.

The movie begins absolutely brilliantly with one of the most excellently staged sequences Iíve ever seen on film, and it is all captured in one, 15 minute long steadicam shot. Most of the movie takes place inside a hotel/casino, which is the setting for a heavyweight boxing match. De Palma opens the movie with an image of a TV camera overlooking building, and then the camera pulls away to reveal Nicolas Cageís character, and from that point on, the camera follows Cage as he places a bet, shakes a criminal down, talks to his wife and son on his gold cell phone, as well as his mistress on the other line, greets his best friend at the fight, chats with a mysterious blond, and the camera does not cut until a man sitting behind Cage is suddenly killed by an assassinís bullet, resulting in 14,000 screaming for the exit doors. It is one of the most remarkably done setup sequences in the history of cinema, and I would recommend the movie on the basis of the opening shot alone.

However, De Palma doesnít stop there with his bag of brilliant tricks. He stages a superbly done pursuit in the corridors of hotel. He also offers several point-of-view camera shots to reveal the assassination in a couple of flashback scenes. One of the flashback scenes includes a dynamic split-screen technique where the truth is reveals itself. Even when the movie doesnít find itself in a moment of action or suspense, every shot of Snake Eyes seems to be alive with energy. It is here where most of the credit goes to the lead actors.

Cageís character and performance is a unique one. Rick Santoro is definitely not that of a role model. Heís clearly that of a dirty cop who will do anything to get ahead in life. Even as the murder investigation begins, Santoro sees it as an opportunity to be promoted as high as mayor even. Through the course of the movie, his morals take an unexpected change. Cage is hot-wired and highly energetic as Santoro right from frame one, and is irresistible in the performance. Gary Sinise provides a very commanding presence in his performance, and delivers some individual scenes with a power all his own.

The only element that prevents Snake Eyes from being a complete masterpiece is the filmís final fifteen minutes, which ends up being a slightly disappointing conclusion. Once the truth behind the assassination is revealed, the movie seems to end things too simple and too quickly, in order to provide the film a traditional kind of ending. Many reviews noted that the ending alone ruined the entire movie, because just about everything that proceeded it was exciting and very well done. For me, it was kind of a letdown, but I wouldnít go so far to say that it ruined the movie as a whole. I was awe struck by the visual style, which De Palma is a master of, and the unique momentum of suspense that the film maintains for at least most of its running time, and that surely qualifies as a more than good motion picture, which Snake Eyes is without a doubt.

Video ***1/2

A quite superb, though non-anamorphic, transfer from the Paramount peeps. The majority of De Palmaís movies that are on DVD are not anamorphically enhanced, and I havenít a clue as to why this is. Nonetheless, the picture is very sharp, and much lively, with no detection of any grain in the viewing. Itís one of the more pleasant non-anamorphic transfers to come from Paramount. Their best transfer that wasnít anamorphically enhanced disc remains Mission: Impossible, yet another De Palma film.

Audio ****

Paramount provides a very remarkable audio transfer for this release. The Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation glows throughout the entire presentation, most notably in the opening sequence. When Cageís character enters the arena, the roar of the crowd sounds like one youíd hear at an actual sporting event. The audio transfer also captures the suspenseful musical score by Ryuichi Sakamoto during key sequences. Without a doubt one of the finest audio transfers to come from Paramount.

Features *1/2

Only a trailer is featured. Although the trailer is an entertaining one, I give this department a lower than usual grade because of the fact that the trailer option is right at the main menu of the disc, which is poor, poor quality for use of the menus and for the use of extras, as well. Sadly, this disc was released when Paramount wasnít enthusiastic about putting any large amount of extras into their releases. Now a days, it seems that every release from the studio includes everything from commentaries to behind the scenes documentaries. Itís too bad, because I wouldíve love to experience a commentary from De Palma where he talked about what went into creating this film, especially the opening shot.

Summary:

Snake Eyes is a masterful, visually stunning piece of cinema and a must-see for all devotees of Brian De Palma and Nicolas Cage. I feel that most critics were too hard on this picture, and on De Palma himself. They felt as if the director had lost his touch as a director of suspense-thrillers, where I felt he was exceeding, even if the storyís conclusion isnít as striking and compelling as it couldíve been.