ninth symphony films - movie reviews

BASIC (2003)

DIRECTOR  -  john mctiernan

RATED  -  r

GENRE  -  action

LENGTH  -  98 minutes

RELEASED  -  28 march 2003

DISTRIBUTOR  -  columbia pictures


basic - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from basic at

buy the dvd from basic at

a dea agent investigates the disappearance of a legendary army ranger drill sergeant and several of his cadets during a training exercise gone severely awry.

this is the first film since pulp fiction that samuel l. jackson and john travolta have acted in together.


picture from basic

picture from basic

picture from basic


one out of four possible stars

It is difficult to understand why screenwriters feel they must pull an audience in so many different directions at the closing of a film. It's so easy to lose the respect of the audience if your entire film is just a set-up for the dozen or so one-hundred and eighty degree turns planned for the final fifteen minutes. This film, to put it as basic as is possible, is like The Usual Suspects on speed. The plot concerns a United States Army Ranger training mission gone horribly wrong where only two out of a group of Ranger trainees made it out of the exercise alive. The film spends about eighty minutes delivering the plot of the film and then takes the last fifteen minutes to throw it all on the rocks and present a scenario completely different.

While a film like Suspects (a movie of the same ilk as Basic) presented its final twist(s) in a subtle manner, screenwriter James Vanderbilt (who also delivered to us the reprehensible Darkness Falls) doesn't accomplish that feat in quite the same manner. He obviously feels quite nicely about making his plot twists as unbelievable as possible, ensuring that the audience is nearly laughing at the story by the closing credits, rather than being awed by it. Star John Travolta is a charming guy, but not even his better than average performance can redeem the craziness of the story.

After acting like a certifiable loon in his past several films, Travolta makes his appearance in Basic seem a much more sane venture, but it's hard to respect his character when all is said and done because of the foolery by the screenwriter. Co-star Connie Nielsen also performs well, but is equally mistreated by Vanderbilt. She tackles a Southern accent for this film and is successful in most scenes with the dialect, an impressive feat considering she's from Denmark and her first language is not English. Mastering not only a language but its regional dialects as well is the mark of an intelligent person.

But the real life intelligence of the actors in this film is called into question because of their involvement in the film. It seems that Samuel L. Jackson, having become one of America's most favorite actors in the decade since his role in Pulp Fiction, could have seen through the plot holes into the film and should have spoken up to the director or producer about eliminating the breaks in the story. But the filmmakers seem content in creating a film whose sole purpose is to "shock" the audience with its final few twists and turns.

There is very little joy in the journey to get to that conclusion, so making the audience wait a good seventy-five minutes for the "wild ride" to begin means a significant portion of viewers will be wondering why that kinetic energy wasn't present in the entire movie. The movie is quite short (hovering around ninety minutes), so it's not as if audience members will be bored to tears by the end, but there are too few moments during which characters are developed emotionally. And that means caring about those characters and what their destinies will be is a difficult task.

Something which further pushes this film into annoyance territory is the percentage of dialogue spoken over the windy, thundering, and raining conditions of a hurricane. Well over half the dialogue has to be yelled and the tone of voice the actors must adopt to yell over those conditions becomes a trial to listen to and numbs the viewer to any emotional turmoil occurring on the screen. Granted the soundtrack score, provided by Hans Zimmer friend, Klaus Badelt, is roaring and exciting, but energetic music is a far more entertaining beast to listen to than dialogue that is shouted.

The element of rain and the perpetual darkness of the film add a suitable amount of "mood" to the film, but the aesthetics of the film can be overwhelming and deafening in a theater whose sound system is on full blast (which they all are). Director John McTiernan has yet to formally apologize to his fans for the reprehensible (have I already used that word in this review?) remake, Rollerball, but has redeemed himself marginally with Basic. One hopes that this respected director can gain more footing with his next project.

Basic is a film with many plot holes which aren't sewn up completely by the closing credits and is an experience best left to a rainy night and Blockbuster Video. While the acting is competent (many times more than competent), the film won't hit viewers on any real emotional levels and may leave the viewer feeling emptier than satisfied. Though the plot twist at the end can be considered ingenious, it seems like it was tacked on as a last resort after the main body of the screenplay failed to really inspire. Viewers of Basic should bring their ear plugs to the theater, leave their brains at home, and hope they're a fan of at least one of the actors in the film.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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