Military Thriller
Dir: John McTiernan
Star: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Connie Nielsen, Tim Daly
Cert / Year: 15 - R / 2003
Format: DVD R2

When a US Ranger cadet-training mission deep in the Panamanian jungle, under the command of brutal and legendary drill instructor, Nathan West (Samuel Jackson), goes fatally wrong, only two cadets make it out of the jungle alive. The two survivors are uncooperative and base commander Styles (Tim Daly) calls in his old friend, former Ranger and temporarily suspended, DEA agent Tom Hardy (John Travolta) to try and discover what really happened. Partnered with the official base investigating officer Osborne (Connie Nielsen) they have to find the truth amidst the lies, but nothing is quite what it seems...

Belief in the directorial abilities of John McTiernan was severely shaken after his abysmal remake of Rollerball. So it was with a certain sense of dread and a very slim optimistic hope that I approached this, his latest offering. I'm not a big fan of military drama / thrillers but I was quite impressed by The General's Daughter a couple of years ago, which also starred John Travolta so was interested to see the results here. The results I can honestly say are very good and I think John McTiernan is well on the road to redemption, this excellent military thriller proves to be more stimulating than The General's Daughter, and relatively simplistic visually. It looks as if McTiernan is back on form again as he delivers some stylish and accomplished direction, there is some classic photography creeping in here and there and it all frames the story very well. Now what he needs to do to re-establish himself is a big budget nonsensical action fest, perhaps 'Die Hard 4' which could serve as an apology for the dumb affair we got for Die Hard 3.

Written by James Vanderbilt (Darkness Falls and Rundown) the story is involved and intelligently constructed and has been developed into a well scripted thriller. The story has echoes of Rashomon with several 'witnesses / suspects' relating the same story from different perspectives and with subtle differences in each and related to the audience through flashbacks. I feel it only fair to point out now that if you are expecting an old style McTiernan action blockbuster with barely feasible action, wild gun battles and exploding buildings then you are going to be very disappointed. This isn't a film for testosterone junkies or gung ho action fans, the action here is delivered as intermittent bouts and in small doses intended to serve the story and not govern it. The script also manages to slip in some quite biting humour in places, nothing roll around the floor laughing but some amusing quips here and there.

Sam Jackson is excellent as Sgt West, the wicked drill instructor, not quite on the same page as the vicious Gunnery Sgt. Hartman superbly played by R. Lee Emery in Full Metal Jacket but a suitably nasty piece of badass work nonetheless. John Travolta sheds a few pounds and is not quite 'Tubby Travolta' anymore as he works with his Pulp Fiction co-star (Jackson) again. What scenes he gets with Jackson are pretty good but they are too few to be honest and the film would have benefited from seeing more of this dynamic duo, as the pairing of Travolta and Connie Nielsen is adequate but just doesn't really have a spark or gel very well. It is watchable and Travolta's performance is reminiscent of his Major Deakins from Broken Arrow as he produces another cool, smug and calculating character. I like Connie Nielsen and quite a lot of her work but she is a bit inconsistent and hit or miss with her performances. She works well, if a little uncomfortably with Travolta but appears on screen to be overshadowed by him. The remaining ensemble cast are excellent. You have the talented Giovanni Ribsi and Taye Diggs as a couple of the Rangers on the mission and crooner Harry Connick Jr as a doctor and Tim Daly from televisions The Fugitive as the base commander.

Basic proves to be a stimulating and entertaining film with plenty of twists along the way and not the dreary and typically predictable US military movie you have come to expect. This is not a film for viewers with short attention spans as it could prove confusing and probably not up their alley as it doesn't adorn the screen with copious amounts of explosions and gunplay. This is not a flawless or seriously compelling and gripping thriller but it is a jolly good tale and it keeps you guessing, right up until the end.


There are degrees of truth.

Seeing is deceiving.


So pretty. So dead.

Osborne: I questioned him for two hours; he didn't make a sound.
Hardy: You try pokin' him with a stick?

Rating: 3 out of 5

Picture 16:9 Nice crisp image
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 Pretty cool soundtrack
Features Audio commentary from director John McTiernan
'A Writer's Perspective' featurette with screenwriter James Vanderbilt
'Director's Design' featurette
TV spots
Radio spots
Verdict Not a great disc but a pretty good presentation with some interesting extras.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Reviewed by Logan Back Top Home