Snake Eyes - rated - HOT! HOT! HOT!

If you love the process of cinema, you'll love this film. Brian de Palma is a buff's director - he loves to use all the tricks of the trade, and with Snake Eyes he doesn't stint at all. First up, he gives us an incredibly long and complicated tracking shot - complete with dizzying pans across a crowd of something like 15,000 people. Don't be late to the cinema, as I was. I missed about one minute of the 20 minute tracking shot, and now I have to go back so I can see the whole thing from start to finish! The shot is not only for show - it's a miracle of organisation, it introduces all the main characters, sets the scene and beautifully and economically establishes the tone and mood of the picture.

But having to go back and see Snake Eyes again is no hardship. Frankly, I can't wait: there's so much to enjoy in this film. De Palma has so much on the go at any one time, it is hard to take it all in in one viewing. He uses split screens to give two sets of information at once, and he shows the same scene from different points of view, Rashomon-like.

De Palma is an avowed Hitchcock disciple, and he follows Hitchcock's lead by revealing the villain's identity fairly early on - and then keeping the suspense up anyway. And talk about keeping the suspense up! I was emitting little whines and squeaks of apprehension for the last 20 minutes or so of the film, and digging my fingernails into my husband's arm. De Palma sets up the final scenes so carefully, that when everything comes together at the end, the effect is like a house of cards coming down - inevitable- yet you couldn't say you saw it coming.

De Palma is not really an actors' director, but that doesn't cause any real problems here. Perhaps Carla Gugino (better known on TV than in film - Spin City, The Buccaneers ), as the heroine, is a bit wet - but her character's a do-gooder anyway. Gary Sinise does his usual professional best, and brings a suitable gravity to a part that could have been very hammy in the hands of someone with less restraint. And speaking of restraint, that's not a word applicable to Nicolas Cage in this film, or in any film lately, for that matter. Still, he's playing a colourful character - a sleazebag of a hero, which is quite refreshing, actually. He pulls out a fair proportion of stops - I wouldn't like to say all stops, because I'm sure Cage has stops in reserve! It's a tremendously enjoyable, if excessive, performance. But most of the excess takes place in the first 20 minutes, during the long long single take, and so it fits perfectly. And since the setting of the film is Atlantic City, we know good taste is not the point.

De Palma has been criticised for not tying up all the loose ends in this film. I disagree strongly. Some of background material in the plot is not the most credible story I've ever read, but de Palma is meticulous about his setup and his denouement. Stay till the end of the credits and watch the builders - it gives you the last link in the chain. And is that de Palma making a Hitchcock-like appearance in the building crew?

In summary, de Palma is a master craftsperson, and this film is a prime example of his craft. It might not be art - but then again, it just might!