Saturday, February 18, 2012

The House Always Wins

Having already viewed his masterful film Blow-Out and enjoyed his really well made movies The Untouchables, Scarface, and Mission: Impossible, I have a slight grasp on Brian De Palma's style, which is unmistakable. He is quite good at crafting thrillers, and his detractors miss the point of his movies: yes he is often paying homage to Hitchcock and other masters of suspense, but he clearly puts his own take on many of the genre's cliches. Even though its a bit messy at times, Snake Eyes churns, slow burns, and draws the viewer into a world of conspiracy and justified paranoia, where anyone can be bought and the truth comes at a high price. Nicholas Cage's corrupt, energetic police detective finds this out all too soon, and the film rests on what he is willing to do even though he is not your typical average hero.

Yet that is more of a reflection of real life: most people operate in shades of gray, not black and white. Even the villains of this movie have ways of legitimizing their actions, and Cage's anti-hero cop gets in way over his head when he should be smart enough to simply take the money and walk away. From a fixed boxing match to a massive coverup, the movie traffics in misdeeds, while De Palma uses quick cuts and expansive framing to properly articulate a film noir-ish world of lies and deceit. Although I will admit that some of the movie doesn't quite work, and the last act is rather over the top, Cage and Gary Sinise's top notch performances anchor the material.

Some could say this movie is really about doing the right thing no matter the consequences, others can point out that the conspiracy angle is one of De Palma's trademarks, as it has also been featured in Blow-Out (to better effect) and Mission: Impossible. One can also note that DePalma is too focused on style, rather than subsistence, and perhaps they are correct. Yet when its style this good, being a bit flashy in this case yields some fine results. 88

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