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Intermission

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by Jim Wunderle

"Snake Eyes"

Directed by: Brian DePalma

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Gary Sinise, John Heard

Rated: R

More than any other working director, Brian DePalma wears his Alfred Hitchcock fixation proudly on his sleeve. Not all of his films are in this category ("Mission Impossible," "Casualties of War") but when he goes this route, he does so unashamedly.

"Obsession," "Dressed to Kill," "Body Double" and "Blow Out" were all unabashed derivatives of the Hitchcock formula.

With his latest film, "Snake Eyes," he utilizes not only a Hitchcock-inspired story, but camera tricks worthy of the master himself.

While critics often tell us that technology, special effects and photographic trickery do not a movie make, any serious student of cinema will acknowledge the important role the camera plays in the telling of a tale on film.

Long-time viewers might take for granted the technical structure of Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane," or the work of such visual directors as Fellini or Kurasawa, but the camera really does play an important part in the overall "feel" of a film.

Hitchcock played with the camera quite a bit. "Rope" was a movie that had no cuts, save for the limitations imposed by the fact that a reel of film is only 20 minutes long. At this point the camera would move into the back of an actor and, as the next reel started, zoom back out to the action. It's not his best movie, but it's an interesting piece of work.

Hitchcock also developed the long tracking shot and did so in the days before the "Steadicam" was a Hollywood staple. In "Frenzy," the camera backs out of a room, winds down the stairs, backs out the door and moves across the street. This is all uninterrupted by cuts and is one of the most effective pieces of cinematography you'll ever witness. It plays perfectly into the story and gives "Frenzy" even more of that "Hitchcock" feel.

In more recent years and with the advent of the gyroscopically controlled Steadicam directors have been using this technique to great effect. The opening of Robert Altman's "The Player" is a beautifully executed, extended-length tracking shot. Martin Scorsese used the technique to its ultimate in "Good Fellas" in the scene where Ray Liotta and his girlfriend go nightclubbing at The Copa.

DePalma, and cinematographer Stephen H. Burum, join the ranks of the mighty with the opening segment of "Snake Eyes." While it's a definite Hitchcock rip-off, if not for "Saving Private Ryan," I would say it's the most riveting opening sequence of any movie this year.

At times it's a bit dizzying, but ultimately it serves the purpose well. The viewer is drawn into the action and has a real connection with what's going on.

What's going on is this: Nicolas Cage is Rick Santoro, a cop who really seems to enjoy his job. Outside of the fact that he's in big time debt to a few gambling operations, Rick is a fairly well-adjusted cop and knows all of the right people in Atlantic City.

"Snake Eyes" takes place during one evening in Atlantic City, the night of a heavyweight title match. Rick is there and so is an old friend, Kevin Dunne (Gary Sinise), who is a naval officer on assignment to protect the secretary of Defense.

The secretary, who's also at the fight, is assassinated, and local cop Rick, along with the feds (led by Naval officer Dunne), tries to figure out who done it, and just as importantly, why somebody killed this government official. One of the more difficult aspects of the job is trying to contain what amounts to 14,000 eyewitnesses.

While the plot offers nothing really innovative, the acting from Cage and Sinise is reason enough to see "Snake Eyes." De Palma's personal style has never been better and he seems to have conveyed his vision quite nicely to cinematographer Burum.

(Jim Wunderle works at Associated Video Producers and is a Springfield free-lance writer and musician.)

INSET CAPTION:

With 'Snake Eyes,' DePalma utilizes not only a Hitchcock-inspired story, but camera tricks worthy of the master himself.[[In-content Ad]]

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