"A CAREER-BEST PERFORMANCE FROM ONE OF OUR MOST INTERESTING LIVING MOVIE STARS"
At Collider, Nick L writes about Brian De Palma's Snake Eyes as an underrated work of film craft that is one of Nicolas Cage's best thrillers:
One movie that doesn’t quite get the love it deserves in this regard is Snake Eyes, in which Cage goes fully wacky for the legendary director Brian De Palma. Ask your average film-lover what their favorite De Palma movie happens to be, and we doubt very many people would say Snake Eyes. You’re more likely to get an intersection of answers that encompasses one or more of the following: Carrie, Scarface, The Untouchables, etc. While we would never claim Snake Eyes to be Top 5 De Palma, watching the movie against the backdrop of today’s weightlessly anemic mainstream thrillers makes it much easier to appreciate Snake Eyes’ formal inventiveness, the heedless zeal of its filmmaking style, and Cage’s hellacious, go-for-broke lead performance.
The fact that Snake Eyes doesn’t labor under the pretense of being high art, ironically, is ultimately made it easier for critics to attack it. In his slam of a review, Roger Ebert called Snake Eyes “the worst kind of bad film: the kind that gets you all worked up and then lets you down, instead of just being lousy from the first shot.” Elsewhere, Kenneth Turan, writing for the Los Angeles Times, labeled the movie “coarse and undernourished” as an exercise in drama.
Of course, reviews are meant to be taken within the context of the time in which they were published. We have seen many instances of poorly-reviewed films that would go on to be reappraised as good or even great in the years/decades following their release (Richard Kelly’s infamously maligned Southland Tales is only one of a few examples of this). Snake Eyes isn’t a reinvention of the wheel, or even of De Palma’s usual playbook: as usual, he is doing Hitchcock one better, reveling in the suspense and skeeziness and explosive visual fireworks that this genre affords its practitioners.
Like the John Travolta-starring Blow Out — arguably De Palma’s masterpiece, at least in this writer’s opinion — the plot of Snake Eyes orbits around an instance of suspicious malfeasance that then spiderwebs into a veritable conspiracy of corruption. Cage struts up a storm, holding every inch of our attention as spectacularly flashy Atlantic City cop Rick Santoro. Rick is introduced in the film’s bravura opening sequence: a long, and we do mean long Steadicam take that follows Rick throughout every inch of a cacophonous boxing arena before that evening's big event. Cage reads his lines in an operatic, knowingly ludicrous register — the unbroken virtuosity of the camerawork seems to be communicating the sentiment that this is merely Rick Santoro’s world, and we’re just lucky to be living in. Though multiple viewings reveal that, by detailing every nook and cranny of his only real principal location, De Palma is laying out narrative clues in plain sight.
The crowd is fired up, the place is alive with bloodlust... sounds like a nice night for an assassination with a side dish of collusion, no? Cover-ups and double-crosses become the name of the game in Snake Eyes after an unseen gunman proceeds to shoot and kill the U.S. Defense Secretary amidst the high-stakes throes of the boxing match. Already, the setup for a thriller of this sort is delicious, but De Palma has more than one surprise up his sleeve.
Several other key figures factor into the ensuing mystery: a shadowy Naval official (Gary Sinise) whose intentions are not what they seem, a femme fatale (Carla Gugino) who witnessed the attack, and Truck Turner actor Stan Shaw as a heavyweight fighter with a face straight out of a '40s noir. Much of Snake Eyes, particularly with its labyrinth of a plot and the world-weary cynicism of Cage’s seen-it-all antihero, feels like De Palma’s fevered version of a contemporary film noir, though the Obsession director ultimately made a more traditional noir exercise with his undervalued, admittedly quite sordid 2006 vehicle, The Black Dahlia. The craft on display in Snake Eyes is nothing less than arresting: deftly sophisticated visual storytelling like the kind De Palma provides in even his lesser-praised work is virtually nonexistent in our current movie-going climate, which make the retrospective pleasures of something like this slept-on thriller all the easier to appreciate.
Read the whole article at Collider.