Going Around the Twist

John Travolta in Basic (2003)

Master Sergeant Nathan West (Samuel L. Jackson) is leading his team on a live ammo training exercise in Panama where they are to navigate the jungle in storm conditions. But when the rescue helicopter arrives at the rendezvous point they witness trouble as two men are being pursued by a third forcing one of them to kill another in self defence. But refusing to speak under interrogation the man just writes an eight in a circle which freaks an officer out. It leads to DEA agent Tom Hardy (John Travolta) being called in to question the man even though Hardy is under investigation for bribery. As he speaks to him and the other survivors a picture of what happened in the jungle starts to form but one which differs from person to person.

"Basic" is anything but basic, here is a John McTiernan movie which not only gives us a variation on Rashomon but so many twists that it leaves your head spinning. I believe that may have been the intention because if you happen to be in the mood to sit and watch and try to follow the unravelling drama you will discover the holes in the plot, the twists which cheat and so on. Now maybe the original story was tighter, maybe the original story was just too big for a movie especially one which comes in under the 98 minute mark but something went a miss during production.

Connie Nielsen in Basic (2003)

Now that is a real big problem for "Basic" because the USP is the way the story is presented, the flashbacks as to what happened told from different people who then tell different versions of the story. As I said it cheats and cheats leads to it losing the audiences attention because why invest time in a story when all of a sudden they will change what they told us just because they can. And to be totally frank, when we discover the truth it is a real let down.

What that ends up meaning is that "Basic" becomes about the actors and two in particular. Now Samuel L. Jackson gives us tough son of a bitch as West but it is no different to what we have seen Jackson do before except this time he is a Ranger. And then there is John Travolta who is meant to be this cocky hotshot who at one point gives us the Burt Reynolds pose whilst questioning a Ranger, yes it sounds wrong and it is. The knock on effect of this that the supporting performances which are more realistic than those of the main stars end up coming across as weak because of the over the top performances of Jackson and Travolta dominate them.

What this all boils down to is that "Basic" might entertain you if you want to watch a movie which thinks it is cleverer than it is but don't want to concentrate. But it is not a movie for those seeking intelligence and a plot which respects you when you follow it.

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