The opening shot of Snake Eyes is great. It lasts for about ten minutes, uninterrupted. Its geographic range is increased by the careful use of video monitors receiving signals from elsewhere.
The technical skill required to pull off the long shot at the beginning is formidable. Such a carefully planned and executed shot leads one to expect the same from the script. At first the script is tight and twisty, but its resolution is a mediocre anticlimax.
Did You Notice?
Rick Santoro (Nicolas Cage) is a crooked Atlantic City cop, “covering security” at one of the biggest boxing events of the year. In the big introductory shot, he freely takes money in exchange for favors and schmoozes with the powerful, rich, and sleazy elements of the city.
The only unusual thing about security at this match is that the Secretary of Defense is attending. Escorting the Secretary is Kevin Dunne (Gary Sinise), an old friend of Nick’s. The fight moves on, and at the knockout punch, a shot is heard. The Secretary has been hit. Another shot rings out, a woman in a wig is hit as Nick throws her to the ground.
Before the cops arrive, Dunne breaks down in front of Nick. He failed in his assignment to protect the Secretary and is worried for his job and his family. Nick suggests they get their stories straight before any investigators show up.
Eventually Nick and Dunne split apart to investigate the crime, starting with the mystery woman. Given enough time alone, Nick starts to piece together the mystery.
The setup and investigation are interesting and well-told. De Palma uses flashbacks to tell the same story from different points of view. With each flashback, another piece of the story falls into place. This part of the film is very good.
Then it becomes clear what happened, or at least who is responsible. At this point, the movie stops being so interesting. Instead of tantalizing clues and a clever villain, we have slow chase scenes and a conventional killer. The resolution of the film is anticlimactic, a ho-hum mix of guns and lucky timing.
The film fails in other areas too.
In order to allow for De Palma’s elaborate camera movement, there needs to be lots of light, which means it can’t be controlled as tightly. As the movie’s tone darkens, the lighting seems to get brighter and more even. In Jackie Brown, the bright lights and solid colors seemed to be an ironic twist, but in this movie, it seems like a cost-cutting compromise.
Also, Sinise was the wrong choice for Commander Dunne. He never really filled his uniform with the qualities demanded by the role. Granted, it was a hard role to fill, with lots of acting-within-acting going on. But Sinise just never had me convinced of anything.
Cage, on the other hand, was very good. He’s a crooked cop, taking money wherever he can find it. As long as he’s getting his share, his morality threshold is low. The perfect example of his idea of ethics is brought out when a whistleblower comes forward and asks for his protection. This cop’s first reaction is not to help her, but to verbally abuse her for breaking her boss’ trust, for violating the code of the good-ol’-boy network, for expecting the world to play by the rules. But there is a glimmer of morality left in him and by the end, his faith in the network is really put to the test (in one of the movie’s more clever developments).
Two minor characters turned in great performances too. In the ring, the boxer had such a look of humility and fear that one couldn’t help but feel sorry for him, even as he beat his opponent senseless. And Carla Gugino, a relative newcomer, held her own on the screen with Cage and Sinise.
De Palma’s last film was Mission Impossible, a great movie, well-written and tightly executed. Snake Eyes has similar aspirations, but it doesn’t come close.