The first words we hear Tom Hardy say in BASIC is in a conversation this ex-Army and currently DEA agent in Panama is having with a colleague, the gist of which is that if he doesnt have the trust of those around him, he cant function. Those are words that will figure greatly in the twists and turns that writers Cathy Rabin and James Vanderbilt have given this mostly solid script. The shades of meaning will change precipitously, but in the end, it will all come down to trust.
Hardy, played by John Travolta, is called in by an old pal and Army base commander (Timothy Daly), to investigate exactly what went wrong during an Army Ranger training mission in the Panamanian jungle. A squad went out during a hurricane, but only two of them came back, one, Kendall, the son of a member of the joint chiefs of staff, is gravely wounded, and Dunbar, who saved Kendall’s life and refuses to talk to anyone except another Ranger, but only one that isnt stationed at his base. During the course of the interrogations, we see the often conflicting stories the two men tell. Both agree that the sergeant, played with perfect wickedness by Samuel L. Jackson, was murdered by one of the squad. Who, how, and, crucially, why, is open for debate as each of the men spin increasingly different stories of what happened, each setting the other up for a death sentence that maybe neither of them deserves. There is also the underlying tug of conscience we feel watching events play out, that though killing ones commanding officer is wrong, this guy deserved it for being the meanest mother in Army, never mind a potential assassin himself.
Director John McTiernan starts the story slowly, but gradually builds his momentum until by the end, the truth turns on a dime so quickly that it all but leaves a sonic boom in its wake. With a plot like that, its vital that each actor plays in such a way that a villain can become a hero and vice versa without stretching the audiences patience or credulity. On that score, everyone scores a bulls eye here. Travolta displays a savvy charm just this side of smarmy, making him a perfect foil for the regular Lt. Julia Osborne, played by Connie Nielsen (GLADIATOR), with whom hes paired up. Nielsen is great, fuming at having her thunder stolen but tough and still committed to get at the truth no matter where it scampers, alleviating what could have been a clichéd plot point. It also helps that while shes attractive, shes not, strictly speaking, eye-candy, and when necessary, kicks booty with the best of them. If her accent teeters between the deep south and somewhere in Europe, well, these things happen. Brian Van Holt as Dunbar is stalwart and simple, maybe too much so, planting delicious doubt. Giovanni Ribisi, though, is the more interesting of the two, playing the emotional damage of being a great mans son to the hilt with a soigné bravado that enjoys being the thorn in the old mans side. Also along is Harry Connick, Jr., as a base doctor who shares a past with Osborne and even warbles a few bars along the way.
BASIC does ask us to take a few leaps of disbelief to jump start itself, such as base commander calling in outside help, even if it is the best interrogator in the known world, but its in a good cause. Aside from a by-the-book budding romance between Hardy and Osborne, the story get more interesting as the time passes and while you might thing you see whats coming, dont count on it. Its better to just sit back and enjoy the ride.