For his second pic of the year, following his slick sci-fi remake, “Body Snatchers,” maverick helmer Abel Ferrara returns to the mood and, to some extent , the theme of his controversial cult item, “Bad Lieutenant,” also toplining Harvey Keitel. Perfs, as usual in Ferrara’s movies, are powerful, but despite the presence of Madonna, “Snake Eyes” is another abrasive, confrontational downer likely to appeal only to a marginal audience.
As pic deals with the process of moviemaking and features Keitel as a filmer apparently not unlike Ferrara himself, “Snake Eyes” will be seen as one of the director’s most personal efforts. Added to which, Nancy Ferrara (helmer’s spouse) portrays Keitel’s loyal but betrayed wife, in a very sympathetic performance.
Pic opens in wintry New York, as filmmaker Eddie Israel (Keitel) leaves his wife (Ferrara) and small son to fly to the coast to work on a new movie, “Mother of Mirrors,” starring actors Sarah Jennings (Madonna) and Francis Burns (James Russo) as a couple whose marriage is disintegrating.
Jennings’ character, Claire, has found religion and wants to halt a destructive lifestyle of booze, drugs and sexual experimentation. Burns’ character, Russell, rejects her change of attitude angrily and with violence.
Regular Ferrara scripter Nicholas St. John has devised a screenplay in which the stresses of filming spill into the private lives of the filmers. As the director goads the volatile Burns to extremes of violence in his role, Jennings becomes increasingly distraught and victimized, both on and off-screen.
Jennings sleeps with her co-star and director, both of whom treat her appallingly.
The director’s attempt to confess his multiple infidelities and wild behavior to his wife is met with her horror and disgust. As filming nears its close, the director finds the traumas of his personal life intruding more and more into the fictional material.
“Snake Eyes” is raw, intense material with an authentic aura.
As the director, Keitel, in another remarkable performance, proves he’s one of the finest actors around. Russo’s angry, anguished actor is a knockout. Madonna, in the least showy role of the three leads, acquits herself well: This is probably her best screen perf to date.
Pic is a most pessimistic depiction of the filmmaking process. A last-reel clip from Les Blank’s docu “Burden of Dreams,” in which Werner Herzog talks about the “madness” of making movies, is, presumably, a distillation of Ferrara’s disenchanted theme.