Directed by John McTiernan, ‘Basic’ is a 2003 action-thriller starring John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Connie Nielsen, Roselyn Sanchez, Tim Daly, Giovanni Ribisi, and more. The movie follows the story of Tom Hardy (John Travolta), an ex-army ranger, investigating the death of a well-known Major Sergeant Samuel West (Samuel L. Jackson) and his four rangers.
The film features a series of intense interrogations, with Hardy questioning the only surviving members, Kendall (Giovanni Ribisi) and Dunbar (Brian Van Holt). As Hardy pieces two and two together, it becomes clear that there are conflicting accounts and hidden truths. The soldiers’ stories fail to harmonize, casting a sinister pall over the entire event. If you’re curious to see what challenges Tom Hardy faces during his investigation, here’s everything you need to know about the ending of ‘Basic.’
Basic Movie Plot Synopsis
The story starts on a stormy evening, at 1800 hours on November 1st. Major Sergeant Samuel West (Samuel L. Jackson) leads his team of army rangers into a ferocious tempest for live training. Their mission is to endure and excel in conditions that seem impossible to tame while neutralizing a total of 20 reactive targets and reaching the rendezvous point before the deadline passes. Major Sergeant West is a well-known name in the army. His methods may be a bit unorthodox, even extreme, but they have earned him the respect of his soldiers and peers. His reputation as one of the finest training officers precedes him, and he wears it as a badge of honor. However, fate takes a drastic turn when a routine training exercise goes horribly wrong. During this particular ranger training exercise, some of West’s subordinates start using live ammunition against each other, resulting in the disappearance of four soldiers and Sergeant West himself.
Captain Julia Osborne (Connie Nielsen) sternly escorts Major Dunbar into the interrogation room. She wastes no time grilling him about the incident of firing live rounds on his fellow rangers. Major Dunbar, on the other hand, declares that he will only speak to a fellow ranger from off-post. Colonel Bill Styles (Tim Daly), fully aware of the gravity of the situation, agrees to Dunbar’s condition. He reaches out to Tom Hardy (John Travolta), an ex-army ranger and a brilliant DEA Agent. In Styles’ eyes, there’s no one better suited to lead this investigation. Julia Osborne, on the other hand, has some reservations about involving a DEA Agent in an army investigation.
Upon Hardy’s arrival at the army base, Styles and Osborne quickly bring him upto speed. The duo details the events of November 1st when six rangers left the base for their training mission. They were supposed to rendezvous at the designated rally point by 1830, but shockingly, the rangers never made it. Osborne continues to recount the events, explaining that the army scrambled helicopters to locate the missing team. However, all they managed to find was Major Dunbar carrying a gravely wounded Levy Kendall on his back. The remainder of the team remained unaccounted for, and Major Dunbar stubbornly clings to his silence. He still refuses to share any details that might help the investigation.
Hardy bears his eyes on Major Dunbar and questions him regarding the whereabouts of Major West and the missing soldiers. Dunbar responds that they are dead and there is no point in mounting a rescue operation. Despite this, Dunbar remains obstinately tight-lipped about what happened during the ill-fated training exercise. Hardy shifts his approach and probes further about Major West and the nature of their training course. Dunbar, somewhat reluctantly, begins to share some details. He describes Major West as one of the army’s most stringent and demanding officers, known for his relentless pursuit of excellence. West had a penchant for pushing his subordinates to their limits, often singling out individuals to serve as examples for the rest.
Dunbar elaborates on Major West’s grueling training regimen, explaining how it was meticulously designed to teach soldiers how to operate effectively under extreme fatigue and high-pressure situations. West had a knack for exhausting his troops, subjecting them to rigorous escapes and evasion exercises. West even forced his men to scale 500-foot heights in the pouring rain while carrying heavy weights. As the conversation continues, Dunbar also discloses that Major West had a long-standing issue with a fellow ranger named Pike (Taye Diggs), a grievance that escalated over time.
West consistently singled out Pike, subjecting him to unnecessary questioning when he was already on the brink of exhaustion and deprived of sleep. When Pike inevitably faltered in his responses, West’s solution was uncompromising. Pike had to redo the training course from the beginning. This pattern of behavior against Pike troubled Dunbar and his fellow rangers, but they were paralyzed by fear, reluctant to incur the wrath of Sergeant West. Hardy takes a gamble again and asks Dunbar about the events of November 1st, but the latter still refuses to divulge any details.
Tom Hardy and Captain Julia Osborne pay a visit to Levi Kendall, the soldier whom Major Dunbar was carrying on his back. Kendall, after some initial hesitation, reveals that he is homosexual and was transferred to Major West’s training course after his father discovered his alleged affair. Tragically, West held the same prejudice against homosexuals and took it upon himself to make Kendall’s life a living hell. He ensured that everyone in the unit was aware of Kendall’s sexuality, turning him into an outcast. Kendall further explains that West had gone to extreme lengths, even threatening to kill him. During the training, he deliberately paired him with another soldier named Castro (Cristián de la Fuente), who already held animosity towards Kendall and treated him as a leaper.
As a result, Kendall was living in constant fear, always watching over his shoulder, fearing that a stray bullet might find him. Things take a shocking turn when, during the live training, Kendall and Castro stumble upon Major West’s lifeless body. West had been fatally struck in the back by a phosphorous grenade. Everyone began suspecting Pike, who likewise confirmed that he had killed West. Everyone decides to turn Pike in, but a firefight ensues, killing most of the rangers. After the dust settled, Dunbar carried Kendall on his back and was later picked up by rescue helicopters.
Basic Ending Explained: Is Major Sergeant Samuel West Alive or Dead?
After hearing Kendall’s confession, Hardy believes Dunbar is the real culprit. Unfortunately, in the lack of any physical evidence, the only way he can charge Dunbar is via a confession. Finally, Major Dunbar breaks his silence and asserts that Kendall is lying and that Major West was shot, not burned, by a phosphorus grenade. Dunbar further clarifies that he was present on the scene and was not in the bunker with Mueller (Dash Mihok), as Kendall had claimed. According to Dunbar, Pike arrived at the bunker, and everyone immediately began suspecting him since he was missing his phosphorus grenade. Pike tried to convince Dunbar that Mueller and Castro were responsible for West’s death, not him.
Realizing Pike is telling the truth, Dunbar decides to cut him free. Unfortunately, Mueller wakes up and shoots Pike. A firefight ensues, claiming the lives of Nunez (Roselyn Sanchez), Castro, and Mueller. Dunbar also mentions a name, Vilmer (Harry Connick Jr.), who had been supplying drugs to Mueller and Castro. Vilmer confirms Dunbar’s story, revealing that Mueller and Kendall were indeed selling prescription pills. However, Captain Julia Osborne still can’t fathom why Kendall would jeopardize his career just for some painkillers. Osborne and Hardy press Kendall again for answers, but he begins crashing and dies. But before he dies, he draws ‘8’ on Osborne’s palm.
Tom Hardy recognizes the significance of this ‘8’ and reveals it refers to “Section 8.” These were the men who had once served under Major West but had gone rogue, turning to drug dealing. Hardy also learns from Vilmer that Dunbar is actually Pike and is the mastermind of the entire event. Pike confesses that the reasons run deeper than mere prescription pills. In reality, Mueller and Kendall were transporting cocaine back to the United States. Major West had somehow caught wind of this illicit operation and threatened to report it to the authorities. Fearing the repercussions, Mueller and Kendall conspired to eliminate him. Pike then switched his dog tags with Dunbar’s, fearing everyone would blame him for West’s death. The reason why Kendall confirmed Pike is Dunbar is because Pike was threatening to reveal his drug operation.
At the end of his confession, Pike provides Hardy with the serial numbers of supply crates carrying cocaine. Hardy realizes that Colonel Styles is also part of the drug operation, and he was the one who ordered West’s assassination. Styles tries to buy Hardy’s cooperation, but the latter denies it. Seeing the wind isn’t in his favor, Styles tries to kill Hardy, but Osborne intervenes and kills him instead. The investigation ends, but something about Hardy spooks Osborne. She follows him into a bar and finds him sharing a drink with Castro, Nuñez, and Dunbar. Osborne also discovers that Sergeant West is alive and is now a part of “Section 8.” He had also planned the entire thing to catch Kendall and others. The movie concludes with West and Hardy offering Osborne a chance to join their team, which the latter gracefully accepts.
Why Sergeant West Call Tom Hardy from “Section 8?”
“Section 8” was a clandestine task force formed with a singular mission. It was established to infiltrate various branches of the United States Military, expose corrupt officers involved in drug trafficking, and halt these illicit operations. Leading this covert team was Tom Hardy, an ex-Army Ranger who had previously served under Sergeant West. The team comprised of members like Pike, Dunbar, and Nunez. But why did Sergeant West contact Hardy? Sergeant West was stationed at the Panama military base, where he stumbled upon troubling information. He uncovered that two rangers, Kendall and Mueller, were using shipping crates to smuggle cocaine into the United States under the cover of the military.
Unaware of the depth of corruption within the ranks, Sergeant West reported this illegal activity to Colonel Styles. Little did he know that Styles was deeply involved in the drug operation West was trying to expose. In a bid to take down the drug ring, Sergeant West reached out to Tom Hardy, who was well-suited to lead a mission of this nature due to his background. On the other hand, Style chose Hardy to lead the investigation because he was already dealing with an ongoing bribery case. Styles believed that Tom might have some dirty secrets, and he saw an opportunity to manipulate him if Tom ever found evidence of his involvement in the drug operation.
Who Killed Kendall?
Hardy and Osborne paid another visit to Kendall after realizing that he has only shared part of the story. However, just as Kendall was about to disclose more information, he started coughing up blood and tragically succumbed to his condition. In his final moments, Kendall drew the number “8” on Osborne’s palm. Later, it was revealed that this “8” signified “Section 8,” a clandestine group of covert black-ops soldiers.
When Hardy confronts Styles about his involvement in the drug operation, he inadvertently confesses that Kendall was poisoned. This was a critical mistake on Styles’ part because Kendall’s cause of death had been kept under wraps. Realizing the gravity of his blunder, Styles attempted to downplay it by suggesting he had taken a lucky guess. Sadly, it was too late, as Hardy already deduced that Styles poisoned Kendall.
Read More: Is Basic Based on a True Story?