In SNAKE EYES, Nicholas Cage plays crooked Atlantic City police detective Rick Santoro who must decide whether or not to reveal the secret conspiracy behind the public assassination of the U.S. Secretary of Defense. Although this movie clearly advocates that Detective Santoro should take a heroic stand against corruption and for goodness and justice, it also includes a liberal use of foul language, including many strong profanities, violent and bloody scenes, and some sexual innuendo.
Americans have always been captivated by conspiracy theories, even before people started questioning the Warren Commission findings in the assassination of President Kennedy. During the years leading up to the Civil War, for example, many people in the North believed that powerful Southerners were secretly conspiring to extend slavery and bring black slaves into Northern states. Even our founding patriots in the 1760s and 1770s believed that there existed a secret plot by a few powerful men to enslave the colonies. Brian De Palma, the famed horror film director of CARRIE and DRESSED TO KILL, returns to his early theme of government conspiracies in the new movie starring Nicholas Cage, SNAKE EYES. De Palma explored this theme in 1968, in his second movie titled GREETINGS, and in 1981’s BLOW OUT, starring a young John Travolta.
Cage plays crooked Atlantic City police detective Rick Santoro in SNAKE EYES. He joins his old friend, Navy Commander Kevin Dunne (Gary Sinise), at a big heavyweight boxing match, while a hurricane begins to rage outside the arena. Dunne is now a highly placed federal official and is protecting the U.S. Secretary of Defense, who is also at the fight. After Dunne is suspiciously drawn away from his post, the Secretary is assassinated while talking to a mysterious woman in white. During the confusion of the fight and the assassination, Santoro notices that the woman hands the Secretary a folder and discovers that the heavyweight champ has pretended to be knocked out just before the shots rang out.
Temporarily in charge before the FBI appears, the flashy Santoro seeks to save his friend’s career. He questions the champ (now ex-champ), his buddy Dunne and the mystery woman. Using videotape of the arena, the events leading up to the assassination are replayed by the memories of each witness. Santoro uncovers a conspiracy involving a new missile defense system. The burden of this knowledge forces him for the first time to confront his own corruption as a police officer. Can he be bribed to keep the murderous conspiracy quiet, or will he make a heroic stand that can endanger not just his career but also his life?
As with many of Brian De Palma’s movies, SNAKE EYES has lots of vivid camera techniques and dazzling storytelling devices. Those include elaborate camera pans, continuous steadicam shots that follow characters in large spaces and shots where we see through a character’s own eyes for long periods. For example, when the ex-champ tells his version of the events that open the movie, the audience sees everything through his eyes, until the champ starts doing some shadow boxing in front of a mirror. The effects of De Palma’s techniques can be stylish and exhilarating, as in the baby carriage scene in THE UNTOUCHABLES, but they can also be dizzying, overdone, unnecessary, and/or intrusive. Such is the case with SNAKE EYES, which also has a couple scenes in the middle where the plot, characters, acting, and writing don’t gel. These scenes have the goofy, half-baked, student-film feeling of De Palma’s worst work, such as the ending of SCARFACE featuring Al Pacino as a crazed Cuban mobster. Not surprisingly, several audience members chuckled at the actors’ delivery in these scenes.
Finally, although this movie clearly advocates that, for once, Detective Santoro should take a stand against corruption and for goodness and justice, it also includes a liberal use of strong obscenities and profanities, violent and bloody scenes, and some sexual innuendo. Reportedly, De Palma was trying to obtain a PG-13 rating for the movie, instead of the R that he finally received, but it is hard to see how that can be possible, given the amount of obscenities and profanities, not to mention the sexual innuendo, partial nudity and bloody violence. SNAKE EYES also falls back on the politically correct, stale plot of a powerful defense corporation conspiring to defraud the government. This is a rather mundane storyline, given everything that has been alleged in recent scandals involving the Chinese government and President Bill Clinton’s array of problems. SNAKE EYES may be fun for film scholars to analyze, especially in light of De Palma’s other movies, but the average moviegoer will probably find little of value in this latest Hollywood thriller, despite another interesting performance by Cage.
(B, H, ACap, AP, Pa, LLL, VVV, S, N, A, D, Re, M) Mixed moral & humanist worldview of anti-capitalist, anti-patriotic conspiracy plot - morality is upheld but heroes triumph by their own efforts with no reliance on God, plus characters exhibit immoral, pagan & hedonistic attitudes; 35 obscenities, 26 profanities & 7 vulgarities; Secretary of Defense shot in neck, woman shot in arm, boxing fight scenes, sounds of punching while people watch boxing match, boxer brutally beats hero, villain murders three of his cohorts, woman wipes blood off her neck, crowd panics when assassin's bullets hit celebrity, & suicide; references to adultery & sex, man lays on top of woman in her underwear, woman poses as prostitute to escape bad guys, & man grabs woman's rear; women in low-cut outfits & short skirts & women in underwear; alcohol use; smoking & cocaine abuse; minor redemptive theme regarding hero; and, miscellaneous immorality such as policeman solicits & takes bribes, businessman conspires to fake tests for missile defense system, & villain believes good ends justifies vicious means.