When the feared and hated commando Sgt Nathan West (Samuel L. Jackson) and other elite Special Forces trainees disappear during a military exercise in a hurricane amidst the jungle of Panama, ex-Amy Ranger turned DEA agent Tom Hardy (John Travolta) is recruited to investigate and assist head of Fort Claytonís military police Capt Julia Osborne (Connie Nielsen). But nothing is as it seems and the contradicting testimonies of Raymond Dunbar (Brian Van Holt) and Levi Kendall (Giovanni Ribisi) add to the confusion. And as Hardy begins to scratch below the surface, it is clear that there is much more at stake.
Review by Louise Keller:
A rip-roaring, intense psychological thriller, Basic is a dizzying and complex murder investigation that digs deeply and tenaciously to seek out the truth. There are many versions of the truth (my version, yours - and the real thing), and in this multi-layered and at times confusing story set on a military base, we are constantly on edge and dazzled by the many twists and turns that relentlessly are flung our way. John McTiernan (Die Hard) expertly creates apprehension, using all elements available including Steve Masonís intense cinematography, a resounding music score and the tempestuous weather that never abates. The opening sequence in which we briefly meet the trainees in hurricane conditions in the wilds of Panama, gives no detail, but leaves us with an impression. Itís pretty tough going out there, and there is no shortage of conflict between the men. As we learn what happened (from differing points of view), itís easy to become confused. After all, the characters have not been firmly established, and it is hard to differentiate between the mud-splattered men in the dark, stormy conditions. But these confusions are swept away in the second half and the pieces of the jigsaw start to fit, as revelation upon revelation propels us into an extraordinary twist of affairs. While Basic is a tense drama, the big surprise is that there is unexpected humour in both the characters and the action. John Travolta gives a splendid turn as the ex-Army ranger whose tactics are nothing short of unsettling. Travolta is in fine shape following a vigorous three-month long fitness campaign, but the thrills really come from the mental gymnastics. Thereís tension between all the characters: the cumulative result is that we are constantly uneasy. Connie Nielsen plays the rookie who goes by the book, and through whose eyes we learn the truth. She plays straight man to Travoltaís showy wild card, and the combination works well. All the cast is excellent with Giovanni Ribisi haunting as the whingeing, effeminate soldier, and Samuel L. Jackson forceful as the tyrannical, hated commando. I also like Harry Connick Jnr in his small but pivotal role. Everyone has a secret and itís not until we dig deeper and deeper that we begin to realise the extent of the secrets hidden. The balance shifts as suspicion moves from one character to another, but nothing prepares us for the final outcome. The payoff is substantial, but you will need to persevere and concentrate. If you like your thrillers dense, challenging and full of surprises, Basic fits the bill.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A great cast with a good script and the potential for a gripping military thriller are wasted by John McTiernan and his editor as they put the film into a blender and hit the Fast switch. The structure of the film is built on replays of events told from differing viewpoints Ė a device that can be intriguing or irritating. This time itís the latter. This device needs careful editing and storytelling to avoid confusing the audience. Once confused, the tension drops and we care bugger all for how things turn out. To make matters worse, lightning effects are in permanent mode for some 90 minutes of the 98 minute film, and even when shooting interiors, McTiernen has lightbulbs spluttering wherever he can. The intention no doubt is to make us feel edgy: it made me feel irritable. In the end, not only is much of Steve Masonís fine cinematography garbled, so is the story. The splendid whodunit nature of the plot is sabotaged, but there is enough talent on board to save the filmís ass from being a total waste.
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CAST: John Travolta, Connie Nielsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Giovanni Ribisi, Brian Van Holt, Taye Diggs, Cristian De La Fuente, Dash Mihok, Tim Daly, Roselyn Sanchez, Harry Connick Jr
PRODUCER: Michael Tadross, Mike Medavoy, Arnie Messer
DIRECTOR: John McTiernan
SCRIPT: James Vanderbilt
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Steve Mason ACS, ASC
EDITOR: George Folsey Jr ACE
MUSIC: Klaus Badelt
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dennis Bradford
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 29, 2003
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video
VIDEO RELEASE: November 12, 2003