Unexpected thriller ‘Basic’ takes you for a wild ride



Elissa Vallano

The major problem with movies today is that there aren’t any surprises. Within the first 30 minutes of a film, you can already figure out the ending. Sometimes you know the ending before the movie even starts. But when it comes to the new film “Basic,” you are left guessing from start to finish. Packed with an all-star cast, “Basic” is a roller coaster ride from the very beginning.

“Basic” marks the first reunion of John Travolta (Agent Tom Hardy) and Samuel L. Jackson (Sgt. Nathan West) since their Oscar-nominated performances in “Pulp Fiction.” The film takes place in Panama, where it apparently never stops raining. The intensity starts in the first scene with Sgt. West leading a military exercise with five other soldiers. The problem is only two soldiers come back alive, and no bodies can be found. Because of the highly sensitive nature of the situation, the chief warrant officer of the base, Pete Wilmer (Timothy Daly) calls on ex-soldier and DEA agent Tom Hardy to interrogate the two remaining soldiers. Wilmer’s decision infuriates Lt. Julia Osborne (Connie Nielsen), the officer initially assigned to be the interrogator. Osborne refuses to let Hardy handle the interrogations alone, and the combination of the two provides the film with witty banter and humorous flirting it so desperately needs.

As Osborne and Hardy delve deeper into the mystery of the deadly exercise, more questions are raised and the plot takes so many turns that it made my head spin. Osborne and Hardy find out that you can’t believe anything or anyone, and there was more to the exercise than they could have imagined.

I thought Travolta did a surprisingly good job as the cocky and blue-collared Agent Hardy, especially after the flubs he’s been spitting out recently. Jackson played his usual role as the stone-faced tough guy, which is of course not a stretch of his acting ability, but a solid performance nonetheless. Nielsen, best known for her role as Lucilla in “Gladiator,” was a pleasant surprise as well, and the playful banter between her and Travolta provided the dark, intense film with a lively humor. The highlight of the film was undoubtedly the supporting cast. Dash Mihok, Roselyn Sanchez, Giovanni Ribisi, Taye Diggs and Brian Van Holt all turn out excellent performances as the soldiers caught in the center of the controversy.

Some might say that the plot takes too many twists to make sense, and it tries too hard to reach the level of “The Usual Suspects.” I strongly disagree. I thought all the twists and turns were refreshing. I loved the fact that once I got my mind wrapped around one scenario, another popped up.

The movie could have done more to clear up the confusion, because I guarantee many people are going to be clueless throughout most of the film. But for me, it was so nice not knowing how the movie was going to end halfway through. The major flaw from director John McTiernan is that there were so many unexpected twists, we don’t have time to get attached to the characters and care about them as deeply as we should. Depsite this flaw, the actors do their best to make sure their performances are engaging and solid. Even though it can’t compare to “L.A. Confidential” and “The Usual Suspects,” if you’re looking for a brain-teasing thriller with a great cast, “Basic” is a must-see.