Snake Eyes (1998) / Thriller-Mystery

MPAA Rated: R for some violence
Running Time: 98 min.

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Gary Sinise, Carla Gugino, Stan Shaw, John Heard, Kevin Dunn
Brian De Palma
Screenplay: David Koepp
Review published February 7, 1999

There's a heavyweight championship bout going on in an Atlantic City casino, and the Secretary of Defense is in attendance. Shockingly, he is also assassinated during the fight, and although the assassin was taken down, things don't make sense and begin to smack of conspiracy as Detective Rick Santoro (Cage, City of Angels) begins digging into the facts of the case.

Brian De Palma (Mission Impossible, The Untouchables) is a cinematic master, who knows how to dazzle with virtuoso camera movement and split-screen magic, and for that he is seen as one of the most talented directors around. However, for all of his talent, he has never been seen as a great director despite his talent at the visual medium. Why? Well, it's mostly due to the fact that De Palma is so concerned in getting shots right and showing off visually that it appears his obsession, leaving the story obscured under an ocean of indifference.

Snake Eyes is another flawed film in this vein. A nifty little film with stunning camerawork and gimmickry, with an interesting plot and good actors. The problem is that the De Palma is so enamored of this toy of a movie he gets to play with, that the characters and story take a back seat for the duration as we get scene after scene of De Palma reliving his glory days as a master of technique.

Still, it does remain interesting and quite watchable even if the characters and story are cartoonish, but any aspirations of being a good film get blown into the wind by a grossly overblown deus ex machina ending and is further evidence of De Palma's problem: he has so much fun setting things up he seems begrudging when he has to end it, and it's a letdown both for him and for us that he can't punctuate things properly.

The only real question here remains: is De Palma going to be a director who uses his immense talent to further a story or is he simply one who looks for reasons to employ the directorial equivalent of jerking off?

If Snake Eyes is any indication, I guess we should start wearing raincoats for his future films.

Qwipster's rating:

1999 Vince Leo