Basic (2003)


Ebert: Rolling Stone: TV Guide:

Warning, minor plot points revealed!

Basic is Rashomon-light with a couple twists.  It's a fun movie with great performances from it's seasoned cast but it's also a twist happy who-done-it that, at least with one viewing, never really explains what happened.  I liked it but I'll probably have to watch it again to really understand what I saw.  

The story primarily involves the investigation of the disappearance and presumed murder of a hard-ass training sergeant and some of his troops during a training exercise in Panama.  Tom Hardy (John Travolta,) an ex-army Ranger and possibly corrupt DEA agent, is called in by the base commander to interrogate the survivors of the training mission.  We see through flashback their opposing narratives.

Travolta does a fine job at what is now a second nature character for him.  He's the cocky arrogant self assured cool-guy who is always two steps ahead of the game and in complete control of the situation (see Pulp Fiction, Swordfish, Face/Off, etc.)  Samuel L. Jackson also reprises his typical character-type with the preach screamy Sgt. Nathan West.  I'm not complaining about these guys doing their "usual" thing.  I like it.  They were perfectly cast for their roles.  As is the case with most films he's in, Giovanni Ribisi steals the show as Kendall,  one of the surviving soldiers interrogated by Hardy.  Ribisi is not really a leading man type but he always has a presence on the screen that is riveting and impossible to ignore.  Playing darker roles than usual are Timothy Daly, Taye Diggs, Roselyn Sanchez and Harry Connick Jr.  They all do a fine job as well.  Connie Nielsen plays Travolta's unwilling fellow investigator Lt. Julia Osborne.  She's not especially pretty and her American accent in this film is horrible but somebody in Hollywood must like her because she seems to be on a fast track to stardom.  

There are no big special effects in the film except for the inhospitable weather of Panama and some gunfire.  

Really the only problem with the film is that it can't decide on an ending.  Every time it begins to settle on something it "twists" into something else.  The problem is that the latter twists seem to forget the former twists and therefore do not follow any discernable pattern or design.  By the end of the movie you've accepted so many alternate endings that you may actually be mad at the film for being so indecisive.  

I never got to the point where I got mad at Basic for screwing with me but I can see how some might lose patience.  I love twist endings like Memento or The Usual Suspects.  And I like surprise endings like Se7en.  I'm just not especially fond of a surprise twist that I don't really understand.