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Movie Review

"Murder is basic," says DEA agent Tom Hardy. There are no conspiracies, no cover-ups when it comes to murder. It’s much simpler than all that. But is it really? You see, Hardy should know that extraordinary people tend to end up in extraordinary situations and when murder involves them it tends to become rather complex. Consider the case of the universally hated megalomaniac Sergeant Nathan West. He once trained Hardy in Panama and to say there was no love lost between them would be like saying Churchill mildly disliked Hitler. Now West is in a situation one might call extraordinary: He’s disappeared and suspected dead. During a training mission in near-hurricane conditions, West and four of his recruits completely vanished. Two, however, survived. Authorities stumbled upon soldiers Dunbar and the grievously wounded Kendall wandering aimlessly in the jungle. Their commander, Colonel Bill Styles, is less than happy; he wants answers and he wants them now. But when Kendall goes under the knife and Dunbar clams up, he realizes he needs the help of someone other than his current investigator, the naïve and untested Captain Julia Osbourne. Enter Hardy. Once a crack interrogator, his job is to get the men squawking. Yet when they do, their chatter proves surprisingly unhelpful. Their stories are completely divergent, save for two small details: Both agree that West was murdered and that their comrades are dead.

positive elements: Osbourne chastises Hardy for wanting to accept testimony that is probably false just so he can quickly close the case. She then chides him for ceasing to believe in honor and duty. The only quasi-sympathetic character in the film, she doggedly seeks out the truth even when it puts her career and her life in jeopardy. During a rare noble moment, Hardy denounces a friend for betraying his country.

spiritual content: West asks a soldier to use "the number of animals Moses took on the ark" to complete a mathematical problem (the confused grunt is chastened for failing to realize that Moses didn’t have an ark nor animals to fill it). Furthering the Flood imagery during a wet jungle expedition dubbed "Green Hell," West tells his men they’ll continue the trek even if the rain lasts for 40 days and 40 nights.

sexual content: Hardy constantly flirts with Osbourne, asking for her phone number, offering to take her out for a beer and joking about hooking up with her. When he tries to kiss her after they brawl over withheld information, she dissuades him by pointing a gun at his face. Kendall claims West hated him because he was homosexual and that one of his fellow soldiers treated him like a leper when he discovered it. He also discusses how his high-ranking father covered up his sexual preferences when they were discovered. Crude dialogue (which isn’t restricted to this single reference) indicates that Osbourne and a doctor had been sleeping together. Scantily clad women cavort in the middle of the street during an urban parade.

violent content: Much of the film’s story is told in flashback from various characters’ points of view, which allows the filmmakers to display murders in many different ways (and with varying degrees of gore). West is shot multiple times, stabbed and incinerated with a phosphorous grenade. Soldiers are sprayed at point-blank range with automatic weapons and several are shot in the face, legs and various body parts. Blood pours copiously from their wounds. One man perishes when his throat is slit. A woman is blasted in the back. A soldier is executed by being shot in the forehead. The movie’s most graphic scene has a man projectile vomiting blood (as he dies he uses his own ichor to scrawl a symbol on Osbourne’s hand). Hardy threatens a man by holding him within inches of a spinning airplane prop. Osbourne breaks a man’s nose by hitting him with a phone book and pistol whips another. Cameras glimpse a bloody operation. A man is shot through a window while threatening someone with a pistol.

crude or profane language: Obscene and constant. Over 50 f-words appear, several of which are used to describe heterosexual and homosexual intercourse. Adding more than 25 s-words and other profanities, the count rises above 100. God and Jesus’ names are abused more than 20 times. Approximately half-a-dozen crude terms describing male genitalia get tossed around.

drug and alcohol content: One of the film’s many twists involves a military doctor peddling Demerol and other drugs to soldiers, as well as rumors of elite military personnel trafficking cocaine. Viewers are introduced to Hardy as he’s getting drunk on whiskey. He imbibes regularly throughout the film, and smokes and chews tobacco as well. Dunbar also smokes and even the straight-laced Osbourne takes a puff (which gags her). During the duration of Kendall’s screen time he’s sedated with painkillers. When Hardy offers to take Osbourne out for a beer, she claims she doesn’t like it. But later she says she’s going to go home and get drunk. Hardy and the Colonel share shots.

other negative elements: Both Caucasians and African-Americans are targets of racial slurs (West denigrates the "vanilla" inhabitants of Mississippi; the n-word crops up). Nearly every character in Basic plots, plans and engages in lying.

conclusion: The "twist" genre—wherein viewers receive the big payoff in the last five minutes—came into vogue after shockers such as The Usual Suspects and The Sixth Sense hit it big. It doesn’t take long to tell that Basic aspires to join the ranks of those movies and others like them. But its creators would have done well to heed a few lessons from past cinematic failures. Lesson 1: Preposterous endings do not necessarily a happy audience nor a profitable film make (Abandon is a good example of this). Lesson 2: Don’t make things too complicated. Plots are like pieces of stiff wire. Twist them too many times and they’re going to break (consider Sphere). Lesson 3: If you’re going to pack your film with heartless violence and unlikable characters who spout obscenities, make sure you haven’t ignored the first two lessons and hope like mad that people will sit through your foul creation. My hope is that most moviegoers won’t bother.

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John Travolta as Tom Hardy; Connie Nielsen as Capt. Julia Osborne; Samuel L. Jackson as Sgt. Nathan West; Brian Van Holt as Dunbar; Giovanni Ribisi as Kendall; Timothy Daly as Col. Bill Styles


John McTiernan ( )


Sony Pictures



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Loren Eaton

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