“This is fight night and I am the king.”
You need to watch Nic Cage's most innovative action thriller on Amazon Prime ASAP
This 1998 movie may seem boring from the surface, but it's a crime thriller unlike any other, down to the last seconds.
How do you define a ‘90s thriller? There’s usually a badass protagonist, a femme fatale, a tumultuous climax, and a lot of loud prints and big cell phones. It’s a proven formula, whether you’re watching Basic Instinct, Double Jeopardy, or Cape Fear. There’s a comfort to that model, but there’s something to be said for a movie that breaks the mold.
This forgotten neo-noir crime thriller is just that. Here’s why you should watch it now that it’s available on Prime Video.
Snake Eyes is a 1998 film written and directed by Brian De Palma, the acclaimed filmmaker behind Carrie and The Untouchables. It stars Nicolas Cage as Ricky Santoro, a slightly crooked and very cocky cop in the Atlantic City Police Force. Ricky is thrust into an assassination case involving a massive conspiracy, which forces him to re-examine his morals.
Nic Cage and Brian De Palma are a match made in heaven. Cage’s trademark over-the-top acting choices may be overwhelming in a film by a less ambitious director, but De Palma pairs Cage’s mannerisms with camera tricks and stylization that not only make the acting choices seem sensible but also give the entire film a feeling of urgency.
Take, for example, one of the opening shots. It establishes Ricky’s character as the charismatic big man on campus with one long take following him as he makes his way through a crowd to find his ringside seat for a much-anticipated fight. It sets up our players for the rest of the film, from his old buddy turned military security officer Kevin Dunne (Gary Sinise) and local journalist Lou Logan (played, confusingly, by Kevin Dunn).
That long take brings us all the way to our inciting incident, a confusing shooting that comes out of nowhere. Ricky finds himself in the role of detective as he talks to everyone involved and gets their take on the shootout. Because it’s a De Palma film, each of these Rashomon-style retellings are told in point-of-view shots, putting the viewer literally in each character’s shoes.
De Palma pulls every single cinematic trick from his sleeve for this manic crime thriller. Long tracking shots from above spanning multiple rooms? Got ‘em. Split diopters? Have two. Split screens? It’s a De Palma movie; of course, there are split screens! It’s probably the most visually interesting Nicolas Cage movie ever, and he was in Face-Off.
But Snake Eyes doesn’t place style over substance; the script is just as complex as the shots. Ricky Santoro’s character does a complete 180, going from crooked cop to valiant hero. But in the epilogue, the story does something utterly unheard of in movies like this. It suggests that cops — no matter how heroic they may be — could still have ill intent. It’s one last twist in a movie that constantly keeps you guessing.
Snake Eyes only feels like a movie made in 1998 because the cell phones and hairstyles are dated. Innovation-wise, it was decades ahead of its time. It’s a spectacle, it’s a fable, it’s a mystery, it’s a showcase for Cage’s hammy charm. What more could you possibly want from an action movie?
Snake Eyes is now streaming on Prime Video.