In Snake Eyes, De Palma has made a film that is deeply immersing and one that makes sure you're giving it your unrelenting attention (at least until the last twenty minutes) that isn't on a really grand scale like in Mission: Impossible. Snake Eyes is a relatively straight forward mystery, detective film; much like Mission: Impossible yet unlike that film, it is compelling and interesting with characters we spend enough time with to grow to like and despise; with characters who drift in and out of the story and with camera work, setting and trickery more akin to a sports car commercial.
One reason Snake Eyes is a good film is that it takes place in a rather extravagant setting, has a narrative that starts off as nothing and that escalates as the film progresses and combines good pacing and scripting throughout. This is sort of the film Mission: Impossible wanted to be but that was all over the world with characters who you thought were dead but showed up later anyway and a film that was nice to look at but there was too much going on - Snake Eyes is based in one location, a location that starts off as a utopia for gambling, sports fans and people looking for a break. There is color, energy, bright lights from the gambling machines and enough product placement to suggest you are definitely in the Western world attempting to go from rags to the American dream in a second through one-arm bandits.
De Palma prides himself on his camera work and split screen effect. Sometimes it hits, sometimes it misses but in Snake Eyes it hits dead centre. The opening take (which actually contains a few cuts) is fun as well as effective but very immersing - putting you in the film. Also, the way multiple points of view are integrated into the film as different people's stories are being told is reminiscent of characters floating in and out of a multi stranded, non-linear graphic novel. Apart from the visual pleasantries most good films made in the post classical Hollywood era have; the film's story does hold up, albeit weak. There is something about government weapons and how one person's disagreement can lead to betrayal within the armed forces resulting in a lot of pain, death and panic in an instant - that instant just happens to be at a big money boxing match.
The film and its narrative move along at a good pace - twists are revealed when necessary and even when they are, twists in the form of further betrayal within that antagonistic group are very entertaining. My particular favorite scene or sequence involves a girl who everyone is looking for: the protagonist police man because she's a witness and the antagonist backstabber because she knows who really did it; needless to say, the whole fifteen minute sequence revolving around her trying to escape them by posing as a loose girl just to get to the safe haven of a hotel suite is brilliant to watch as each side hunt her, she desperately tries to get to the room and the chief of security watches everyone's every move through CCTV.
Like I said in the opening paragraph: 'everything's good until the last twenty minutes' certainly comes into play in Snake Eyes. I read that the ending was changed but some scenes such as Cage's 'I thought I was going to drown in there' had me wondering what the ell he was on about but further reading says the first ending involved a tidal wave (all is suddenly clear); also, the whole following of Cage's character to the desired place by the bad guy followed by the way he is defeated from a winning position (thanks to the weather and his own stupidity) was disappointing. It's not all bad; at one point Cage must contemplate siding with the bad guy and as he does so, stares down at a blood soaked dollar note after being offered a price to stay quiet in return for actual bloodshed which was a nice piece of iconography. I have to recommend Snake Eyes for its great visuals, fun yet entertaining plot and for its all round noir/crime-feel.