08 June 2011
I keep trying to find a nice way to say this. Structurally, this film is tightly-wound clockwork. But no character in it has a single moment that feels motivated or like something a real person would ever say or do. Gary Sinise and Nicolas Cage have so little chemistry as "best friends" that twice in the story I started looking for tell-tale signs that the two were shot in different locations and cut so it seemed they were across a table from each other, or whatever. The ending is so complicatedly pat for no reason that I don't even know what to say about it... after everything seems to have come to some sort of head -- a purely by-the-books and soulless dovetailing of androids lurching from scene to scene and saying the kind of thing needed to get to the next scene, whether or not it made any sense to say -- suddenly about six random events happen all at once -- the Daily Planet-style giant metal globe rolling down the street, the hurricane, the gunshot triggering (?) the electronic doorlock, the news man running with his camera for shelter, the police van hydroplaning into the opened garage just as our heroes are about to be shot point-blank by Kevin Dunne (that is, Gary Sinise's character, who inexplicably shares a name with Kevin Dunn, who stars in this same film as a different character, who is sadly not named Gary Sineese) -- anyway it's all too much.
To its credit, the first twenty minutes, even though they're completely artificial feeling, are incredibly fun and gripping. The camera work and visual motif/theme of What the Eye Sees vs. What the Camera Sees (also playing out in the story as What the Memory Sees vs. What the Camera Saw) is innovative and provocative. But none of it ever makes up for how soulless and hollow the film remains. De Palma has always been an affectionate Hitchcock impersonator, and he and Zemeckis seem to occupy the artificial, cinema-fetishizing end of that New Hollywood spectrum, and I thought Blow Out kind of felt like "pinnacle De Palma," but if that's an example of all the fun parts of his movies-for-their-own-sake repeating-the-masters'-steps-precisely style, Snake Eyes stands as counterpoint. Here the artificiality and navel-gazing doesn't help. The Hitchcockian clockwork-thriller/tragedy-of-errors just feels like it exists to exist. The story doesn't mean anything or do anything, the characters never seem to feel things (anybody anywhere, watch this movie and tell me you really believe Nic Cage's character being heartbroken, hurt or shocked at any of the nineteen times he is surprised or betrayed by Sinise; or that the curtain-close romance between Gugino and Cage feels genuine or motivated by any previous scene in the entire story).
As someone who generally (but skeptically) enjoys and respects and deeply admires Brian De Palma, this is the film that makes me see what his detractors see when they look at his best works. This is a De Palma film, not "warts and all," but maybe just warts.