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Reviews: 'Snake Eyes'

August 13, 1998

Jason MyersBy JASON MYERS

Plato believed all matter to comprise two components - a mass and its shadow.

Despite their massiveness, most modern movies dwell in shadows.

Ours is a conspiratorial culture and the cinema is experiencing more noir now than it did in the post-World War II epoch of "Touch of Evil" and "Double Indemnity." Grays and teals illumine the screen, while rain and murder create moods. The structure of a film has been subsumed within the style of the shadow.

Good that Brian De Palma is an excellent stylist. Few of his movies have had anything but impeccable design and fluent manipulations of plot. His movies are plush with choreography and pensive with metaphysical meditation. "Snake Eyes" may have the same soul as all his movies, but it also displays verve to compete with his best work.

The script by David Koepp, wrought from a scenario conjured by him and De Palma in which a U.S. senator is assassinated during a heavyweight championship in a fictitious Atlantic City casino palace, is lean and rugged, coarse with humor and energy. Once Charles Kirkland (Joel Fabian) is executed, the Millenium becomes a carnival fun house replete with crazed clowns and warped mirrors.

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Our escort through this is Rick Santoro (Nicolas Cage), a member of the Atlantic City Police Department who must have been a mafioso in his former life.

Cage gives a rabid performance, and this is probably the most interesting character a suspense thriller has seen in years. Cage is so passionate an actor that he alchemizes the cliches - the flashy attire, the wife and girlfriend at home - so that they seem like delicate, deft notions of humanization.

Santoro's best friend, Kevin Dunne (Gary Sinise) has made an arguably better life than his high school chum. His importance as a naval officer has him in charge of security for Kirkland and gives him the ability to provide Rick with ring-side seats. This benefit becomes a bane as Kirkland's blood stains Rick's satin suit.

Later he discovers Lincoln Tyler (Stan Shaw), the heavyweight champion, receives his knockout from a phantom punch. Throughout the course of the movie, quick-witted and quickly paced, Rick becomes alternately amazed and dismayed as he learns who was involved.

There are several inequities and implausibilities that hinder the movie's sensibility. Two involve the mystery lady, who we later learn is Julia Costello (Carla Gugino), whose knowlege of a weapons system is central to the conspiracy.

After averting death, she loses her blond wig, and her glasses get stamped on. This was not exactly an inconspicuous disguise - and contacts are more durable in riots which ensue after murders. Moments later, she slides into a bathroom to change and dress a wound - nobody else is there. Women's lavatories are not this dormant at the North Pole.

Nor is De Palma's notion of a boxing match the most realistic. His boxers punch lightly and dance around in some sugar plum version of a bout. "Raging Bull" is probably the most uncomfortable film to watch - although Scorsese's other movies are tough competitors - but at least it doesn't pull any punches.

Some of De Palma's camera tricks are quite ingenious, however. At one point, he scrolls over the tops of a series of hotel rooms, and this voyeurism places us within the shadows of the people who come to New York City. This sequence lasts maybe a minute, but it has as much impact as any of the ballistics which comprise the rest of the film. Shadows are the memories of experience, and movies remember well.

Jason Myers is a 1998 graduate of North Hagerstown High School.

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