Brian DePalma once again revisits his favorite genre: the Hitchcockian thriller. Borrowing a trick from Rope, he films the opening twenty minutes as one (nearly) seamless scene. However, soon after this bravura opening, the film loses all cohesion and begins to fall apart.
Rick Santoro (Nicolas Cage) is a cop who’s just as happy to shake down small time criminals as he is to pursue justice. He’s right at home among the petty thieves and gambling addicts in his hometown of Atlantic City.
Snake Eyes takes place during one night, when Hurricane Jezebel is about to hit the city just as the heavyweight boxing championship is on the line. Thanks to Rick’s pal Kevin Dunne (Gary Sinise), he has scored ringside seats. You see, Kevin is arranging security for the Secretary of Defense, who is attending the match.
However, when there’s an assassination attempt on the secretary’s life, it is up to Rick to unravel the conspiracy. Suddenly, all 40,000 members of the crowd become potential witnesses, or potential conspirators. This becomes Rick’s one true shot at greatness…but is he willing to gamble it all?
He may be a crooked cop, but it’s hard not to like Rick Santoro. Nicolas Cage goes the extra mile when infusing Rick with energy and pizzazz. He does everything possible to keep the film from bogging down, but in the end, he just can’t help it.
The supporting cast is colorful, but pale next to Cage. Gary Sinise plays his role a bit too obviously. Carla Gugino isn’t terribly tempting as a mysterious woman who is wrapped up in the proceedings. The minor actors actually fare better, with intriguing turns from Stan Shaw, Luis Guzman and Kevin Dunn.
The opening “shot” of the film is spectacular. There are a few computer-blurred transitions, but otherwise it is one continuous scene. It lends an immediacy to the proceedings that a traditional shooting technique might have missed. There’s lots of background detail…some important (which is flashed back upon later in the film), and some red herrings. It’s a great start for a thriller.
But then everything falls apart. After such a strong buildup, the critical piece of evidence ends up being an incredible series of coincidences. Then, the film’s finale is an editing nightmare, filled with other bizarre coincidences and non-sequiturs. It’s a very crude way to end a film that began with such good portents.
It’s a shame, and seems all the worse in retrospect. It’s like being one card short of a royal flush. Snake Eyes has the strong central performance, and some good direction…but in the end, a weak script brings it all tumbling down.