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Film / Snake Eyes

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Directed by Brian De Palma, Snake Eyes is a 1998 conspiracy thriller starring Nicolas Cage.

Rick Santoro (Cage) is a corrupt police detective, serving in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He has been bullying people and accepting payoffs for years. One day, Rick attends a heavyweight championship boxing match. Also in attendance is Charles Kirkland (Joel Fabiani), the United States Secretary of Defense, and escorting Kirkland is Kevin Dunne (Gary Sinise), a Navy Commander and longtime friend of Santoro. During the match Dunne walks away from the Secretary to check out a sexy but suspicious redhead, and Julia Costello (Carla Gugino) uses that moment to approach Kirkland and start to speak with him. Moments after she does, the crowd roars as the champion goes down... and then is cut off when several gunshots ring out, killing Kirkland and wounding Costello. Havoc ensues throughout the arena as the fight is stopped and fans stampede toward the exits.

Dunne had followed the redhead to a hallway close to where the assassin took the shots and thus Dunne is quickly able to dispatch the assassin, but the redhead disappears during the shooting. Meanwhile Costello is doing her best to blend in with the crowd and lay low in the aftermath, but Rick is determined to find her, as she may be an accomplice, and if she's not, then she's a witness. As he investigates, however, he soon realizes that there are layers of deception at play, as the heavyweight champ turns out to have faked his knockout, having been paid to do so by the mysterious redhead, and Kirkland had enemies in both the military and private sector, especially since he was evaluating a new military technology project and certain factions within the military and the corporation hired for the project would be furious if he didn't approve it.

Rick finds himself trying to figure out how these and more pieces all connect while facing a conspiracy made up of people far more ruthless than he is, with Dunne as his only backup.

For the G.I. Joe character, check the G.I. Joe character sheet, for his movie, see Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins.

This film provides examples of:

  • Acoustic License: Rick somehow not only hears his cellphone ring while sitting in the front row of a crowded sports arena during a boxing match, but then has a conversation on it with no problem.
  • Apologetic Attacker: Kevin shoots both Serena and Zeitz to try to cover up the conspiracy. Given his later stated motivation for all this, he expresses regret since he considers this is horrible way for loyal soldiers to die.
  • Assassins Are Always Betrayed: The assassin's usefulness is over the second he pulls the trigger, and he is quickly killed. The other conspirators make light of how he was unaware this would be the case.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: At the end of the movie, the Big Bad shoots himself rather than be taken alive or killed by the police.
  • Big Bad Friend: Rick Santoro's old friend Kevin Dunne turns out to be a Well-Intentioned Extremist who is part of the conspiracy.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Rick Santoro solves the conspiracy, most of the conspirators - including the mastermind - wind up dead, and he even gets the girl. But the media uncovers his corruption and he's set to do jail time at the end, but only for a couple of years. Costello makes it clear she'll wait for him, however.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Kevin tells Santoro of being on the Renville when it was attacked and suffered a breach. In about a minute, the entire ship would've sunk, so Kevin had to order the breached area sealed off, which trapped a number of men there as the area flooded. As he says, drowning victims don't die quietly or pleasantly. Kevin is telling this story when explaining his motivation for the conspiracy.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Subverted. There is a huge ball that has been lying on the ground for most of the movie. Almost inviting you to believe that is plot relevant and will eventually roll over someone. It doesn't. However, this was only because test audiences didn't like the originally-planned ending in which it does roll over the main villain.
  • The Conspiracy: "Five people make a conspiracy, right?".
  • Conspiracy Thriller: A very stylized one, too.
  • Covers Always Lie: Rick Santoro spends the entire movie in a beige colored jacket, but the cover has him wear a purple jacket.
  • Dirty Cop: The boisterous protagonist Rick Santoro is an arrogant, corrupt detective who sees Atlantic City as a Wretched Hive that is his own personal kingdom. He takes bribes, doesn't hesitate to use Police Brutality, extorts money from criminals, and regularly sleeps around on his wife. The conspirators even get him involved because they knew Rick's instinct would be to try to cover for Dunne's apparent "failure", and if Rick found out too much they believed that he could be bought. Unfortunately for the conspiracy, Rick draws the line at murder.
  • Distracted by the Sexy / Show Some Leg:
  • Everyone Has Standards: For all of his Dirty Cop behavior, Santoro does value actual friends like Kevin and says he never killed anyone.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Heavyweight champ Lincoln Tyler initially only participated in the conspiracy by pretending to be knocked out, knowing nothing of the rest of the plan and only doing it to pay off his gambling debts. After Kevin Dunne offers him even more money, he becomes a willing participant and attempts to beat Santoro into complying with the conspirators.
  • Fiery Redhead: Serena played by Jayne Heitmeyer. This is actually invoked on her part, as everyone who saw her talks about her enormous, curly, flaming red hair... which is a wig meant to draw attention. She's actually a blonde and without the wig her appearance is much less distinctive.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Kevin’s pistol comes equipped with one.
  • Irony: Nick accepts a five thousand dollar bribe from a low-level reporter who wants to do the exclusive on the scene coverage of the assassination, so he can get his big break. During the ending, that same reporter is one of many covering Nick's fall from grace, once his corrupt history is made public to the mainstream media.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: The film ends with Nick, the Corrupt Cop main character, being praised by the media as a hero for stopping the assassination of a political whistleblower. However, after he becomes a national hero and a media darling, all the poorly hidden corruption in his life quickly come to the surface. Every criminal that he ever shook down or brutalized is quick to try to bring him down by telling about Nick's corruption, all his Suspicious Spending is brought to public attention, etc. This all leads to him getting fired, divorced, and facing prison time. Turns out that even if you're considered a hero, too much attention can bring all your past misdeeds to light.
  • Large Ham: Nicolas Cage, unsurprisingly.
  • Lucky Seven: Referenced by Santoro when he sees the Pit Girl holding the sign for the 7th round in the boxing fight. She later unwittingly distracts Santoro when the Secretary of Defense is assassinated at the match, so she's probably not a very good token.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Santoro is a sleazy corrupt cop who suddenly finds his conscience when the conspiracy he uncovers tries to make him part of their plot to kill a political whistleblower. He succeeds in protecting her, and in the epilogue he is initially hailed as a hero, but winds up going to jail after the extra publicity shines a light on his shady past.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Gilbert Powell for Donald Trump. The casino scenes were even shot in the Taj Mahal Hotel & Casino, which was owned by Trump at the time. Considering Trump's... contentious]] foray into politics, the film's plot comes across as quite prescient.
  • The Oner: De Palma loves this trope and Snake Eyes is primarily known for extensive uses of Oners.
  • Once More, with Clarity The movie shows flashbacks from the perspective different people about the same scenes (or not) adding a little more context each time, with added Split Screen at times.
  • Pit Girls: Rick Santoro (Nic Cage) flirts with one of these who's holding the card for round #7 before the big fight. She calls him on his phone during a vital moment, unfortunately distracting him when the Secretary of Defense, who was seated near him, is assassinated by a sniper.
  • Pull the Thread: One of the things Santoro notes right after the assassination is that when the bullets were fired, the supposedly groggy and knocked out champ Lincoln was startled by the shots and looked around alertly. This gives him the first big lead to the conspiracy that is afoot.
  • Spanner in the Works: Several.
    • The boxing challenger Jose Pacifico inadvertently unravels part of the conspiracy. Lincoln was supposed to take a dive when Zeitz said a specific code phrase and sell it appropriately, but Jose wasn't performing as required for this to work (doing other moves and showboating essentially). Lincoln ended up having to throw himself back to make it look like he got hit with a big shot, but his timing was thrown off by Pacifico's antics, which is why the supposed knockout punch didn't actually connect and why Santoro could see Lincoln was fully conscious and reacting lucidly to the sound of gunshots after the assassination occurred. After seeing footage of the punch not connecting, Santoro knows who to start talking to.
    • The casino was making use of a brand new flying camera to catch crowd reactions during the fight. It happened to be pointed at the perfect place to show that Dunne wasn't distracted by the mystery redhead after all, he was alone when the assassin fired the shots and had purposefully used an excuse to leave his post so he could be in position to kill the assassin right after the Secretary died.
  • The Stinger: The end credits roll over the new arena being built, with the final moments zooming in to show Serena's ruby ring embedded in one of the concrete pillars.
  • Take Me Out at the Ball Game: Secretary of Defense Charles Kirkland is assassinated while attending a high-profile Atlantic City boxing match.
  • Throwing the Fight: Footage of the boxing fight does not only reveal details of the assassination but that Tyler definitely faked his knockout, as the final punch that sent him flying backwards actually missed.
  • Trapped by Gambling Debts: The reason Tyler first agreed to throw the fight, and then actively joins up with the conspiracy.
  • Title Drop: Twice.
    • "You've got nothing kiddo. Snake Eyes. The house wins."
    • And later: "There's no "we", Kevin. You've got Snake Eyes."
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Nearly every twist of the film is spoiled by the trailer, including the identities of most of the conspirators. It doesn't give their motives, but that barely matters even in the film itself. About the only one in the conspiracy that isn't completely given away by the trailer is Kevin Dunne, but only just, and a couple of shots and some dialog of his that seems sinister is included, so the audience would probably come in expecting him to be the bad guy, or at least suspecting it.
  • Turn Off the Camera: When the Secretary of Defense is assassinated at a major boxing event, photographers immediately swarm over the site. Detective Rick Santoro punches out one of them and tells the guards to get the rest removed from the crime scene.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Each time Santoro interviews somebody about what happened during the fight and the assassination, the narrated flashbacks are seen through the teller's eyes. (In continuous first-person point of view shots). One of these flashbacks is entirely made up by the person narrating the flashback.
  • Villain Has a Point: Kevin tells Nick step-by-step what would happen if he succeeded in playing the hero. How Nick would be praised at first, until the media and public find out about his corrupt past, which would inevitably come to light, and then Nick would be destroyed by his own past actions. He was 100% right.
  • Villainous BSoD: After being caught in the middle of trying to kill Nick and complete the assassination of Julia, Kevin belatedly realizes how screwed he is; he can't pull rank with the local cops who have him dead to rights, he's caught on camera, and no one is left who will try to save him or corroborate his story. He more or less goes into shock as he realizes that his entire life's work is crashing down around him and there's nothing he can do about it. He even gets a Thousand-Yard Stare for a few seconds. When he gradually comes back to himself and realizes that there aren't any good options for him, he quickly commits suicide rather than live through the Humiliation Conga that will come after being arrested.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Kevin's reason for why he got involved with the assassination of the Secretary of Defense: the Secretary was putting politics above the safety of American Sailors who once suffered heavy loses without the next-generation air defense missile technology the Secretary was trying to get cancelled.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent:
    • The naturally dark haired Julia appears at the fight in a blonde wig and a white dress when she attempts to talk to Kirkland.
    • The redhead Serena is in fact a blonde wearing a very conspicuous wig and sexy dress so that everyone will notice the hair and her cleavage and she'll go unrecognized when the wig is off and she's dressed normally.
  • With Friends Like These...: Santoro is crushed to learn that Kevin was playing him the whole time. When confronted, Kevin acknowledges he never expected Santoro to get so far and freely admits he figure he could just buy the silence of a guy known for sleazy dealings.
  • You Have Failed Me: With the investigation zeroing in on them and no way to quietly get them out of the building, Kevin reluctantly kills both Serena and Zeitz.


Video Example(s):


Snake Eyes extortion

Rick Santoro extorts money from a drug dealer with Brian De Palma's trademark one-take.

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