Brian De Palma putting Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon and Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train together into one, and the results are nothing less than pleasing. When he is at his most intriguing, Brian De Palma’s work around conspiracy thrillers is never anything below entertaining but to see him and Nicolas Cage come together is where all the promise of Snake Eyes comes in. There are a fair share of weaknesses that ultimately hinder Snake Eyes from becoming up to par with where it could reach knowing how De Palma creates the core of conspiracy (best shown in Blow Out, which I still consider to be his finest work) but as every key moment comes together, it shows Brian De Palma’s best capabilities with mysteries, an area in which he is at his most compelling.
In yet another role where Nicolas Cage lets himself free, he is playing Rick Santoro, a corrupt homicide detective who was also a key witness to a murder that took place during a boxing match where he was present. From the way that De Palma is moving around the mystery that forms the film’s core, something truly impressive comes out the moment in which it also recreates the paranoia which defined what made his best film, Blow Out work so perfectly. The picture places his characters at a mystery that seems small at first, but as more details come by, we are presented much more about the case that ultimately makes for a more fascinating work. He creates a world full of chaos that brings Snake Eyes to higher levels from the frantic nature of such an event.
From De Palma’s use of his split-screen technique, there’s something to be admired with how he also forms more tensity to the mystery by sharing different perspectives of the event. In a manner that almost parallels Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, De Palma employs a sense of paranoia arising from how we are also viewing this case being told by other people. Who are we to believe within all the chaos that De Palma had been able to craft from the first frame to the last? The Rashomon influence can be one aspect that helps Snake Eyes in finding the motivation coming in, but also worth noting is an influence from Alfred Hitchcock’sStrangers on a Train – primarily in the sequence with the unseen boxing match, mirroring the unseen tennis match in said film. We see only audience reactions as they are so caught up with the progress of the game to a point that a distraction of any sort would cause chaos: and De Palma brings it in for the viewers in the best way possible.
What I also love most about Snake Eyes is how Brian De Palma emphasizes style over the substance in order to heighten the tension and the chaos which builds the energy it would not have worked so well without. The screenplay by David Koepp, occasionally is dodgy, but when you piece together Brian De Palma’s convoluted storytelling when putting every bit of the puzzle forming the mystery together, Snake Eyes ultimately becomes an experience all the more rewarding. It is clear that he wanted to capture what it would feel like if one witnessed the events take place in front of their eyes, and the frenzy which Brian De Palma incorporates whether it be from the visuals or the actions of its characters (primarily the insanity typical of a Nicolas Cage performance) adds up to why Snake Eyes becomes something truly brilliant at its very core.
It seems unfortunate that for how much had been whipped up to make Snake Eyes so effective, it never pays off nearly as promising as the style would have indicated. The very worst move that Snake Eyes performs is a ridiculous turn which comes around at the final moments, and knowing what Brian De Palma is capable of creating when it comes to the turn of events for the stories which he wishes to tell, it feels like an underwhelming cop out on his end. Clearly, what had been built up was something so deeply rooted in chaos to the point of revelation in such a factor to place the viewers within the events that come along, but suddenly said idea is just abandoned as these final moments come by, for it then turns frustrating afterward.
At his very best, Brian De Palma is always able to form a mystery that envelops one into the chaos coming by with the many possibilities for what could have happened the whole time. Whether it be from how he is using his own influences, his own trademarks, or the performances which he gets out of his leads, they all elevate what can come out as standard conspiracy fare to something more at hand, which is what Snake Eyes is. Something much greater could have come out of it, but a critical moment just had to come by and ruin what the film had already earned the whole time. Regardless of how much the film loses before said moment takes place, it is still just fascinating to watch everything unfold and let itself loose on the screen.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Paramount.
Directed by Brian De Palma
Screenplay by David Koepp
Produced by Brian De Palma
Starring Nicolas Cage, Gary Sinise, Carla Gugino
Release Year: 1998
Running Time: 98 minutes