Rick Santoro (Cage) is a corrupt police detective, serving in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He has been bullying people and accepting payoffs for years. One day, Rick attends heavyweight championship boxing match. Also in attendance is Charles Kirkland (Joel Fabiani), the United States Secretary of Defense. Among those escorting Kirkland is Kevin Dunne (Gary Sinise), a Navy Commander and close personal friend of Santoro. During the match Julia Costello (Carla Gugino) attempts to approach Kirkland. Sudden gunshots wound Costello and kill Kirkland. Havoc ensues throughout the arena as the fight is stopped and fans stampede toward the exits.
Rick is at first determined to track Julia, considering her a suspect. He soon realizes however that Kirkland was killed due to an unpopular decision of his, canceling a missile defense project. Certain elements of the military forces felt the project was necessary. The corporation hired to create the project wasn't happy either. Rick finds himself facing a conspiracy, with the conspirators being far more ruthless than him.
- Acoustic License: Rick somehow not only hears his cellphone ring while sitting in the front row of a crowded sports arena during a boxing match, but then has a conversation on it with no problem.
- Big Bad Friend: The best friend of Rick Santoro turns out being a Well-Intentioned Extremist with blood on his hands.
- Chekhov's Gun: Subverted. There is a huge ball that has been lying on the ground for most of the movie. Almost inviting you to believe that is plot relevant and will eventually roll over someone. It doesn't. However, this was only because test audiences didn't like the originally-planned ending in which it does roll over the main villain.
- The Conspiracy: "Five people make a conspiracy, right?".
- Dirty Cop: Rick Santoro.
- Fiery Redhead: Serena played by Jayne Heitmeyer.
- Hollywood Silencer
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Santoro is a sleazy corrupt cop who suddenly finds his conscience when he uncovers and subsequently tries to prevent a plot to assassinate a political whistleblower. He succeeds, and in the epilogue he is initially hailed as a hero, but winds up going to jail after the extra publicity shines a light on his shady past.
- The Oner: De Palma loves this trope and Snake Eyes is primarily known for this.
- Split Screen
- Take Me Out At the Ball Game: Charles Kirkland is assassinated in a high-profile Atlantic City boxing match.
- Throwing the Fight: Footage of the boxing fight does not only reveal details of the assassination but that one guy faked a knockout.
- Title Drop: Twice.
- "You've got nothing kiddo. Snake Eyes. The house wins."
- And later: "There's no "we", Kevin. You've got Snake Eyes."
- Unreliable Narrator: Out of the many flashbacks narrated in continuous first-person point of view shots, one is a pure invention by the narrator.
- What Could Have Been: The epilogue has Santoro saying (not verbatim): "I keep having nightmares about that water-logged tunnel, where I drown." Santoro was supposed to chase Gary Sinise through various obstacles, including a water-logged tunnel, before Dunne was run over by a large globe that had fallen off a building during a storm. Test audiences didn't like it, so the chase was cut down, the globe gets pushed off course by a wave, and Dunne kills himself.
- Wig, Dress, Accent: Julia appears at the fight in a blonde wig and white dress when she attempts to talk to Kirkland.