Basic (2003)

By on February 17, 2015
Basic (2003)

Run time: 98 min
Rating: 6.5
Genres: Action | Crime | Drama
Director: John McTiernan
Writers: James Vanderbilt
Stars: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Connie Nielsen
Storyline
Tom Hardy, an ex-Army Ranger turned DEA agent, is drawn into an ever-widening mystery surrounding the disappearance of the feared and often hated Sgt. Nathan West, as well as several of his elite Special Forces trainees on what appears, at first, to have been a routine training exercise during a hurricane in the jungles of Panama. Only two survivors are found, Dunbar, and a badly wounded Kendall, the son of a high-profile Joint Chiefs of Staff official. Neither is willing to cooperate with Capt. Julia Osborne’s investigation. So base commander Col. Bill Styles calls in ex-Ranger Hardy, an old friend and a persuasive interrogator. Osborne disapproves of Hardy who is on leave from the D.E.A. after having come under suspicion of accepting bribes from local drug traffickers. She is also uneasy when she learns that Hardy once trained under West and hates him almost as passionately as his current recruits. With time running out, Hardy and Osborne call a temporary, if uneasy, truce. Hardy … Written by Sujit R. Varma
Plot Keywords: army, panama, 2000s, necklace yanked off, military crime
Details:
Country: USA, Germany
Release Date: 28 March 2003 (USA)
Box Office
Budget: $50,000,000 (estimated)
Opening Weekend: $727,348 (Italy) (31 October 2003)
Gross: $1,196,015 (Italy) (7 November 2003)

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4 Comments

  1. realgihero

    February 17, 2015 at 7:53 am

    "Basic" takes a lot of plot twists through the steamy jungles of Panama. They are often impossible to follow. No, literally. Impossible. As in they literally do not piece together. You can try to analyze them, but when you do, you find out there is nothing really to be analyzed. But the film, by confusing and tricking the audience, makes it appear as if something is there, which is almost as good as if something really is there. Therefore, the movie, though frustratingly difficult to follow at times, is entertaining. Confused yet? Yeah, that’s what the movie will make you feel like.

    The film opens up in a rain-drenched Panama jungle at night on an Army training mission headed by Sergeant West (Samuel L. Jackson). Most of the film–ALL of the film, for that matter–takes place at night, during a rainy hurricane, and adds to the nonexistant plot. What is so intriguing is that the plot isn’t really there, but the writer tries to manifest one, and we feel as if we are staring at some nonexistant, material wad of words and flashbacks and images thrown together in a blender, the writer hoping for it to come out smelling of roses. But I already went over that, didn’t I?

    Flash forward to the next day. An Army chopper picks up two men from the training mission, one injured and one very much alive. The injured man, Kendall (Giovanni Ribisi), is sent to a hospital, and the alive man, Dunbar (Brian Van Holt) is sent in for questioning by the very sexy and very Southern Osborne (Connie Nielsen). Dunbar refuses to speak to anyone except a Ranger. So in comes Ranger Tom Hardy (John Travolta) to piece together the events surrounding the death of Sgt. West and his team.

    The writer of "Basic," James Vanderbilt, has so many twists and turns that the film is impossible to keep up with. I like movies like these, where you see different characters telling their version of one event, but the mistake Vanderbilt makes is that he overuses the plot flashbacks in the middle of other events. It becomes hard to seperate present from past and what’s real from what’s not. So many revelations happen that I feel like I’m in the middle of the writer’s mind, as he comes up with new ideas and tries to squeeze them in time after time after time. There is a limit to how many times you can use "surprise" revelation endings. Vanderbilt uses three of four in a row, piled on top of each other, time after time after time. Just as we think the plot twists are done, and we start to smile because we think we might finally understand the basis of the plot, something else happens, and we zoom in suspensefully on John Travolta’s face as he, along with the audience, realizes something. Which leads me to something else.

    The end of the film leaves more open than concluded. So many plot holes are never ironed out. With the ending being the way it is, you can look back at certain events and think, "Why did that surprise (so-and-so)," and "Why did that event happen as it pays no relevancy to the plot?" The answer to all this? Simple: It’s called audience manipulation, and James Vanderbilt uses it a lot. He throws the audience a bone to keep them happy, continues with something else, throws another bone, and when it’s all done and over, we’re choking on all these bones and he doesn’t realize it. Interesting how he said he named his character Tom Hardy after the Hardy Boys. If I recall, the Hardy Boy novels, which I was an avid reader of at one time, usually revealed a lot at the end. "Basic" tries to, but does not.

    The film has an excellent director at its helm, John McTiernan. A man who chooses his projects carefully and wisely and, unfortunately, sometimes horribly ("Rollerball" was exceptionally bad). But "Die Hard" and "Predator" are two of my all-time favorite action films, "Predator" being my all-time favorite "alien" movie. Who wants McTiernan to return to his roots and film a "Predator 3"? It would be good, but don’t count on it. Like I said, he chooses wisely, and if I assume correctly, he’s the kind of director who doesn’t like to return to old projects.

    "Basic" confused me, but after the film was over and my mind was in a knot trying to figure out all the different plot twists, I realized how much fun I had being duped by this film. I laughed to myself as I came to realize that this movie has a paper-thin plot, and the filmmakers all tricked us by taking so many twists and turns and throwing so many confusion bones at the audience and making us believe that the underlying plot of the film was something deep. I really enjoyed this movie, even if I still don’t really understand it fully. Then again, I don’t think you’re really supposed to.

    3.5/5 stars -

  2. crimsonflash

    February 17, 2015 at 7:53 am

    Man, I can’t believe I almost overlooked this because the major film critics panned it. Basic is seriously good and the kind of mystery/suspense story I don’t see anywhere near enough of. I enjoyed every minute of this movie. I couldn’t figure it out and was surprised at the end. For me, it doesn’t get much better in the entertainment department than a movie like Basic. John Travolta does what John Travolta does best, playing a wise guy better than anyone, and Connie Nielsen delivers a great little performance and she’s hot to boot. This movie has an amazing number of plot twists and the pacing is quick so try to keep up with it. I loved it!

  3. jarvismethis

    February 17, 2015 at 7:53 am

    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.

  4. realgihero

    February 17, 2015 at 7:53 am

    Despite all the horrible reviews written of "Basic," I decided to give it a chance as a rental because director John McTiernan has made several of my favorite movies. Admittedly, I haven’t seen a good one of his since "Thomas Crown Affair" (a remake), but I hoped "Basic" would work on some enjoyable level.

    It starts off quite well. John Travolta and Connie Nielsen are investigating a murderous incident at an Army base, and both of their witnesses are untrustworthy. Their stories go back and forth, eventually painting a picture of what "really" happened. It’s all been done before, I suppose, but it’s fun to watch.

    Unfortunately, the movie derails late in the picture. After what seems like a perfectly good ending (I won’t elaborate, but you’ll see), the movie just keeps going. All of a sudden what "really" happened was fake, here’s what "really" happened, or did it? The conclusion of the film is an absurd reversal of (nearly) every premise of the film. I half expected one of the characters to reveal themselves to be an alien or a vampire or some other Tales From the Crypt/Twilight Zone nonsense ending.

    Much like "The Recruit," the script doesn’t know when to quit with all the reversing. Thanks to the masterpiece film, "The Usual Suspects," now every dopey mystery has to have "the big surprise." And you can do that once, maybe twice in a story. But you can’t press that "reset button" five or six times! If I spend 90 minutes watching a film, I’ve got to know that at least part of that story "really happened." You can’t wash it all away with "that guy was lying." No wonder Entertainment Weekly titled their review "Trashomon."

    P.S. If you watch the film on DVD, there is a really funny extra segment with the screenwriter. Besides reading his own writing on camera, he explains with incredible arrogance how original his story and characters were. So pompous it’s hilarious!

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