Snake Eyes [1998]

Brian De Palma's 1998 thriller is largely an exercise in airing out his orchestral, oversized visual style (think of his Blowout, Body Double, or Raising Cain) for the heck of it. The far-fetched story features Nicolas Cage as a crooked police detective attending a championship boxing match at which the Secretary of Defense is assassinated. The unfortunate Secretary's right-hand man (Gary Sinise) happens to be Cage's old friend, a fact that complicates the cop's efforts to reconstruct the crime from conflicting accounts--a directorial strategy bearing similarities to Kurosawa's Rashomon. The outrageousness of the scenario essentially gives De Palma permission to construct a baroque cathedral of spectacular camera stunts, which (he well knows) are inevitably more interesting than the hoary conspiracy plot. (The opening scene alone, which runs on for a number of minutes and consists of one, unbroken shot that moves in from the street, following Cage up and down stairs, and in and out of rooms until finally ending ringside at the match, is breathtaking.) The shifting points of view--based on the contradictory statements of witnesses--also give De Palma license to get creative with camera angles and scene rearrangements. The script bogs down in the third act, but De Palma is just revving up for a big, operatic finish that is absolutely gratuitous but undeniably impressive. Yes, it's style over substance in Snake Eyes, but what style we're talking about. --Tom Keogh

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