Crime capers, murder mysteries, and whodunits have been a captivating form of artistic expression for centuries. These creative conundrums have been set in exciting locales and feature a wide variety of professions, regardless of if it made sense or not. As such, it is a challenge to find new backdrops for these tropes to be applied to. In 2003, those mystery principles were transposed to the hectic haze of a jungle firefight. Motives and facts camouflaged by the foliage of deception in John McTiernan’s most recent film, Basic.
A small group of Ranger trainees disappear in the depths of the Panamanian Jungle, they return soon after under less than expected circumstances; with two of their own dead, and sans Nathan West, their strict but effective Sargent. A disgraced Ranger dropout turned D.E.A. agent, Tom Hardy, is called in to go undercover in the barracks and piece together what just happened. Accompanied by Military Police officer Julia Osborne, he works his style and quickly interrogates the survivors. They all have a different account of what happened, each one filled with contradictory details. As Hardy and Osborne attempt to recreate the narrative, more questions are raised than answered: Who is telling the truth? And what does this have to do with 8? As the duo set off to investigate, they find that this exercise is more than it is cracked up to be.
Savvy readers, might recognise the name McTiernan, known for his action blockbusters, with the likes of Predator, Die Hard, and Rollerball under his belt. At the time of writing, this is currently his last feature film. It should be said that Military thrillers are not foreign territory for him, with prior experience on The Hunt For The Red October. Although Basic’s screenplay was not written by him, the film does capture that sense of confinement and mistrust rather well. As a story, Basic has a lot going for it, its twist and turns are plentiful, as the notable cast tries valiantly to obfuscate when necessary. At its heart, a whodunnit thriller that finds room to grow in the regimented aspects of the modern enforcement complex, much akin to slasher/mystery Mindhunters. Stylistically, Basic is enhanced with moody lighting, which makes the result a cross between the Jacobs ladder Vietnam scenes and a noir film.
Tom Hardy is an intriguing character, feeling like the protagonist from a successful line of paperback novels, yet apparently, he is a bespoke creation for the film. Unfortunately, we do not get any spin-offs, as he certainly has potential. However, it is Neilson’s Osborne that is also a breakout character, with her straightforward, yet human side that gets, shall we say revealed as the case develops. She offers an entry point for the viewers, with the enigmatic Hardy’s background too murky to initially trust. As an investigative double act, their rapport is enjoyable, leaving room for sequels that unfortunately never came. Samuel L. Jackson fittingly plays the acclaimed drill sergeant Nathan West, and, in frequently altering flashbacks, shows off his trademark energy that has made him so revered. He is of course not alone, with the likes of Giovanni Ribisi and others admirably rounding off the cast.
Basic buries you deep into its lore, helping to lose the audience in intrigue and constantly evolving narrative. This would be fine on its own, yet Basic ups the ante with its creative characters keeping the logical labyrinth interesting, and the stylistic choices by everyone helps elevate this thriller. The duet of Hardy and Osborne is a tantalising introduction, and the film does leave a lot of room for more cases for them to crack, that unfortunately will not see the light of day. However, if you are looking to give your deductive skills a little workout, a tour of basic training is sure to be recommended.
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