Swordfish.  Silver Pictures 2001.
Swordfish. Silver Pictures 2001.

Before watching the movie:

This hinges around a digital heist, but the summaries focus on the persuasion required to get the hacker to hack. Even Hollywood hacking can’t sustain a whole film (even The Net is mostly real-world action), so I expect very little of the excitement actually comes from a guy sitting at a laptop typing until the money is stolen.

I have the impression of the mastermind of the heist as a figure not directly involved in the plot aside from hiring people, coercing people, and hiring people to coerce, but there’s one more headliner than I would expect in that notion, so maybe he’s in the middle of it all, giving orders. I know far too little of use for comment beforehand.

After watching the movie:

A few years back, Stanley Jobson went to jail for hacking into a Federal computer program that was illegally reading all US email traffic and his ex-wife got all his visitation rights to his daughter taken away. Gabriel Shear offers him ten million dollars to break into a secret DEA bank account made from laundered drug bust money worth over nine billion dollars. The FBI wants Stanley to help them bust Gabriel’s operation. Gabriel’s trusted partner Ginger might be a DEA informant. Gabriel has world-changing plans for the money and an explosive plan to get it. Stanley just wants his daughter back.

This movie has a wide range of tones, but never feels mismatched. It starts with a long rant about the lack of realism in movies, and while in some ways it feels like it’s tapping into a level of reality few reach, by the end of the movie there’s a cartoonish departure from reality as Gabriel’s heist is unfurled. And of course, the hacking is half-baked technobabble and gibberish visuals, but that’s a battle I have yet to see a movie attempt to wage.

The world the film inhabits outside of Gabriel’s outlandish villainy is very unsanitized in a way that mostly feels natural. The wild abandon the R rating affords them with the coarse language feels appropriate to the situations. The sexuality is heightened and no doubt gratuitous, but it seems justified for the contexts, never played for straight titillation value. The violence is the most removed from reality, but nearly all of that comes from Gabriel having thought through his plan very thoroughly. The violence is gratuitous because Gabriel is gratuitously violent.

Preposterous GUIs aside, the CGI visual effects were surprisingly good for the time. Most shots are so well-made I might not have noticed, and there are probably a few I didn’t. Getting a ball bearing to perform perfectly and reflect a POV is in less demand than the explosions that are more commonly digital than one may expect, but it was very nicely done.

The theme of misplaced judgement in counterterrorism the plot touches on is shockingly prescient. This movie was released in the summer of 2001, when terrorism was in Hollywood more than the headlines, just a few months before America faced how much it would sacrifice for safety.

It’s not quite gritty, and it’s not quite seamy. The best word that comes to mind is canny. In multiple ways.A little silly, but smart and fun in the way of the best blockbusters.

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