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Basic

Threat advisory: Elevated - Significant risk of entertaining activities

Movie propaganda

There are degrees of truth.

When a military training exercise in Panama goes severely awry, maverick DEA Agent Hardy (John Travolta) and a tough female JAG officer (Connie Nielson) must probe the disappearance of highly decorated Drill Instructor West (Samuel L Jackson) and several of his cadets, discovering that nothing is what it seems and that everyone has their own version of what exactly happened out in the jungle.

Persons of interest

  • John Travolta .... Tom Hardy
  • Connie Nielsen .... Captain Julia Osborne
  • Samuel L Jackson .... Sergeant Nathan West
  • Timothy Daly .... Colonel Bill Styles
  • Giovanni Ribisi .... Levi Kendall
  • Brian Van Holt .... Pike
  • Taye Diggs .... Raymond Dunbar
  • Dash Mihok .... Mueller
  • Cristián de la Fuente .... Castro
  • Harry Connick Junior .... Doctor Pete Vilmer
  • Roselyn Sanchez .... Nuñez
  • Cathy Rabin .... Screenwriter
  • James Vanderbilt .... Screenwriter
  • John McTiernan .... Director

Cinematic intelligence sources

Intelligence analyst

Special Agent Matti

Theatrical report

The paraquel to The General's daughter. Yes, that's right, Basic is neither a prequel (preceding) nor a sequel (following) but a paraquel (existing in parallel). It would be a prequel, and that is how it was originally conceived, but for some reason the powers that be decided not to use the pre-existent characters. Maybe they couldn't make John Travolta's old character fit the new story. Maybe someone wouldn't sell them the rights. Maybe their integrity wouldn't allow them to use someone else's creative effort to make a sequel.

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.

Theatrical report

Well, yes, I was right. Basic is indeed a bunch of soldiers telling lies about dirty deeds done in the deepest darkest jungle. There is twist after twist as the various characters tell their stories, with little reference to that vague concept known as the truth. This makes the investigating officers seem very silly as they accept what they're told without any recourse to scepticism. The first rule of any investigation is that you can't trust anything until it's been corroborated and even then you can never be too careful. Tom Hardy and Julia Osborne keep making up new theories with every piece of information, no matter how dubious. As I said, it's a bit silly. Even the cops in Law & order don't get sucked in that badly.

Meanwhile, the ending is particularly atrocious: "And it was all a dream" went out of popularity before the first movies were even made [not that that stopped anyone - Director of Intelligence] - having the dead guys and the bad guys turn up and say, "Hey, it was all an undercover mission" is just plain rude. The trouble with this pernicious form of filmmaking is that it insults the intelligence of the audience. We have willingly suspended our disbelief in order to experience your story and just when things get really interesting you tell us that none of is happened and we shouldn't have believed any of it. Well thanks a lot. We just love being told we're idiots especially when we've just paid you for the privilege. That may seem to be an extreme reaction but it is how people really feel under their veneer of civilisation.

Even worse is that it's sloppy film-making. If you can't solve all the crimes without looking outside the universe you've created then you have created the wrong universe. You need to throw out your script and start again. You also need to be honest with the audience: the protagonist (Tom Hardy) must not lie to the audience: he is the lens through which we view your world and if you distort that then we have no way to find the truth. We cannot play the game; the die is loaded against us.

Budding film-makers please note: never ever talk down to your audience, you won't win any friends. The writers and directors of Basic may be clever (and they are) but "clever" is only a short step away from "bastard".

In the end, however, if you don't care how the film-makers treat you - if you like being taken for a ride - then you'll like Basic because it is full of twists and turns. Even with the dumb ending.

Security censorship classification

MA 15+ (Violence, Strong coarse language)

Surveillance time

94 minutes (1:34 hours)

Not for public release in Australia before date

Film: 29 May 2003
Disc: 4 August 2010

Cinema surveillance images

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