Saturday 27 January 2018

Movie Review: Basic (2003)

A military whodunnit, Basic twists itself into an unfathomable knot.

In Panama, former Army Ranger Tom Hardy (John Travolta) is recruited by his friend base commander Colonel Bill Styles (Tim Daly) to help the inexperienced Captain Julia Osborne (Connie Nielsen) conduct an investigation. Hardy and Osborne are tasked with interrogating the only two survivors from a disastrous live fire training mission deep in the Panama jungle during a hurricane that left Master Sergeant Nathan West (Samuel L. Jackson) dead along with several other trainees.

The two survivors are Sergeant Dunbar (Bran Van Holt) and the wounded Second Lieutenant Levi Kendall (Giovanni Ribisi). Hardy quickly gets them both to talk, and a story emerges of the hated West being killed in the field and the trainees turning on each other. But Dunbar and Kendall differ on all the details prompting Hardy to suspect there is more to the story. Eventually the base's medical doctor Peter Vilmer (Harry Connick, Jr) is also dragged into the investigation.

The last film directed by John McTiernan before legal troubles consumed his life, Basic is a muddled mess. The idea of investigating a military incident from multiple perspectives is not new, with Courage Under Fire a recent (and much better) example. In Basic, a lot of the already chaotic in-field action is drowned by the sounds of a roaring hurricane, and coupled with jerky editing and indistinct soldiers running around the jungle, the incident at the heart of the film is rendered uninteresting.

Back at the base where Hardy and Osborne are conducting their investigation, it is quickly clear that this is a film where the story will change every ten minutes, with the previous version of events erased and recast with every retelling. By the time the final baffling and barely explained twist to the twist to the twist arrives just before the credits roll, what happened in the jungle and why is tossed into the large bucket labeled "whatever".

Meanwhile the relationship dynamics between the by-the-book Julia and the freewheeling Tom never convince, and enough rules are broken during the investigation to lock up all the cast members for life.

Basic tries to assemble a military puzzle but scatters the pieces all over the muddy jungle floor.

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