15 February 2004 | bob the moo
Not a tight enough film to handle all the twists it wants to do
Infamously cruel Sergeant West takes his unit into the Panama jungle on a training exercise. Two days later two of his men return and report the rest dead. When the base investigator makes no process, the base commander calls in shamed DEA agent Hardy. The investigation continues well with both of the two men telling their stories, however Hardy finds that the stories contradict themselves and that the truth is much, much more complex than first appeared.
For the majority of this film everything goes the way you expect it to, but yet it all still works reasonably well. The plot twists in several ways as each contradiction brings out a bit more truth in the overall tale. It is filled with dramatic interrogation scenes which, although clichéd, do still serve to be reasonably gripping. However at some point, and I can't say exactly when it happens, the sheer volume of twists and the leaps we are expected to make simply become too much for the quality of the material and it more or less collapses in on itself.
It isn't that the twists are too much of a stretch, it's that they are too much of a stretch for this film. Usual Suspects has massive twists that bewilder and require big jumps, but that had the acting and script to back it up. Here the same isn't true, the script doesn't do a good enough job of gradually revealing a story to us just to twist it; instead it just seems to be constantly changing the foundations to the point that I felt I was on quick sand rather than a base where the walls kept moving (if you get my meaning). What I'm saying is that the story didn't set itself up well enough to provide killer twists, instead it was constantly pulling small then bigger twist after twist - to the point where I was expecting the next one before it arrived. Not to unfairly compare, but Usual Suspects gradually added layers rather than twists as it builds to a climax. Basic just keeps twisting but eventually gets to the point where it overstretches itself and the twists lose their impact.
The dramatic tone suffers for this reason and, after a good start it all too quickly loses it's impact. Travolta tries hard and for the most part he does OK, but his slick character loses it towards the end, and his final `winks' are not easy to understand. I got the feeling that he didn't understand his character anymore that I did. Jackson gives a better performance in flashback although his character is pretty much a basic sergeant-major cliché, until the ending goes and ruins a fair amount of what he had done up till that point. Nielsen is pretty good but gives a masculine performance in a masculine film. The support cast is actually pretty good although Ribisi damaged his reputation with me by doing some sort of weak effeminate spoof character. Diggs, Holt, Daly and Sanchez all do pretty well and their solid flashback sequences help the interrogation to be more dramatic.
Overall this film is too twisty and some of them really demand jumps that are just not made possible by a script that doesn't do enough to help the audience out. It still manages to be pretty dramatic and enjoyable for at least the first half, but the final third demands too much and twists too much for the material to cope with. Not as awful as other reviews lead me to expect but it collapses alarmingly fast towards the end.