Snake Eyes: Brian De Palma in Full 90’s Form

By Matthew Pizana · January 13, 2015

Go a little while without seeing your best friend and find out how much even they have changed. Less a thriller and more of a personal betrayal of friendship, Nic Cage stars as an Atlantic City detective tasked with uncovering the identity of the shooter who shot the Defense Secretary during a heavyweight boxing prize fight. Each new detail he uncovers sends him even farther down the rabbit hole until he finds not even friendship is what it is suppose to be.

Police detective Rick Santoro (Nicholas Cage) attends a heavyweight championship boxing match at an Atlantic City casino. Santoro’s best friend since childhood, U.S. Navy Commander Kevin Dunne (Gary Sinise) got him tickets to the show, but is also attending the fight as an escort for Defense Secretary Charles Kirkland (Joel Fabiani). Even as the fight starts, Kevin Dunne is on high alert to keep the Defense Secretary safe. Dunne notices a redhead in the front row that doesn’t seem like she belongs so he goes to investigate. While he is away, a mysterious woman named Julia Costello sneaks into his chair in order to talk to the Defense Secretary.  While she is there, the champ is knocked down. Shortly thereafter, gun shots ring out killing the Defense Secretary, but only wounding Julia as Rick tackles her out of harm’s way. In the chaos, Kevin is able to shoot and kill the assassin. Rick Santoro locks down the arena and helps Kevin get his story straight before the feds arrive and he is court martialed for leaving his post next to the Defense Secretary. Rick’s first visit is to the champ himself letting Tyler know that he saw him take a dive in the ring. Tyler tells Rick that he did throw the fight to pay off some gambling debts, but was not in on the murder. He tells Rick his contact with the redhead that drew Kevin away from the Defense Secretary. Rick talks to Kevin about the fight fix and the redhead and Kevin confess that the trip everyone was in town for was a missile defense test that the assassin, a known terrorist, must of caught wind of and that was why he was shooting. Still after the mysterious girl that was shot along with the Defense Secretary, Rick and Kevin find her at nearly the same time, but Rick gets to her first quickly hustling her away into hiding where she tells Rick that she was there to talk to the Defense Secretary about the missile test being a fraud and the results were faked just to get approval for the government contract. Worse yet, she implicates Rick’s best friend. Rick reviews more footage of the arena during the shooting and discovers that Kevin was indeed involved. Kevin explains why the assassination took place and as soon as he hands over the mystery girl, he can have a giant payoff. Rick refuses, forcing Kevin to work him over for the location.  When that doesn’t work, Kevin lets Rick go free knowing that he will head straight to the girl, which he does, but before Kevin can kill the girl to silence her, police ram into the building leaving Kevin with no choice but to shoot himself. Rick exposes the missile defense conspiracy killing the project before it begins.

The film is less of a whodunit thriller and more about discovering the truth about an old friend; Kevin Dunne is revealed to be behind the conspiracy about a third of the way through the movie. When the truths are revealed, the respect for that friend slowly vanishes until it has all but disappeared. Rick goes from a playboy of sorts with a wife, a girlfriend and a taste for all things vice related to a man with a moral high ground that can’t be bought for even a million dollars. It’s a challenge for the audience to sympathize with a character like Rick, but being betrayed by your best friend tends to give a man a little bit of leeway. 


The assassination is replayed several different times from multiple perspectives in order for the viewer to get a 360 degree view of the proceedings. The film starts via steadicam as it follows Rick through his hand shakings, a little gambling and finally onto the arena floor where he takes his seat next to his buddy Kevin. This kind of movement is consistent throughout the film keeping the tension tight as the viewer never knows what the next viewing of the same thing might reveal or even what might be going on in the background. De Palma understands how to make an audience feel claustrophobic. 

While Snake Eyes might lack the grit and grim of some of Brian De Palma’s earlier works like Blow Out, Nicholas Cage makes up for in entertainment value, undoubtedly the star. His prescience fills the screen every time he is involved; maniac eyes, boisterous personality and kinetic energy. A police procedural mixed with a whole lot of deception, Snake Eyes was a box office flop, but one that helped add to the 90's mountain of action films.  

Trailer Credit: Paramount