Revisited: Swordfish

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Stanley Jobson (Hugh Jackman) is a hacker. Having served time for infecting the FBI’s Carnivore program with a computer virus, he is now on parole but forbidden from touching computers. His alcoholic ex-wife Melissa (Drea de Matteo), who married a rich porn producer and is currently a part time porn actress has sole custody over their daughter Holly, and a restraining order preventing him from visiting the latter. One day, he is solicited by Ginger Knowles (Halle Berry), speaking for her boss Gabriel Shear (John Travolta), for his hacking skills. He goes to meet Gabriel in Los Angeles, where he is put on the spot to crack a secure government server within a minute while simultaneously held at gunpoint and receiving fellatio. Successful, Gabriel offers Stanley $10 million to program multi-headed worm, a “hydra”, to siphon $9.5 billion from several government slush funds.

Stanley begins work, learning that Gabriel leads Black Cell, a secret group created by J. Edgar Hoover to launch retaliatory attacks against terrorists that threaten the United States. He also privately discovers Ginger is a DEA agent working undercover, and further is surprised to discover a corpse that looks like Gabriel. He goes to see Holly home from school but finds he is being followed by FBI agent J.T. Roberts (Don Cheadle), who had previously caught Stanley. Roberts, though monitoring Stanley closely, is more interested in Gabriel as he does not appear on any government database, and after learning that another hacker, Axl Torvalds (Rudolf Martin), had been killed by Gabriel’s men, warns Stanley to be cautious. Stanley opts to secretly code a back door in his hydra that reverses the money transfer after a short period. Meanwhile, Senator Reisman (Sam Shepard), who oversees Black Cell, learns the FBI has started tracking Gabriel and orders him to stand down. Gabriel refuses, and narrowly avoids an assassination attempt ordered by Reisman. Gabriel personally kills Reisman in revenge and continues his plan.

Stanley delivers the hydra to Gabriel and leaves to see Holly, only to find that Gabriel has killed Melissa and her husband and kidnapped Holly, framing Stanley. Stanley has no choice but to participate with the bank heist to get Holly back. Gabriel and his men storm a Worldbanc branch, and secure its employees and customers as hostages and fitting each with ball-bearing-based explosives similar to Claymore mines. When police and FBI surround the branch, Gabriel takes Stanley to the coffee shop across the street to meet with Roberts, but Gabriel spends the time to discuss the film Dog Day Afternoon and the nature of misdirection. Once back in the bank, Gabriel has one of his men escort a hostage to demonstrate the situation. A sniper kills the man, and other agents pull the hostage away from the bank, causing the bomb to detonate, ravaging the buildings and vehicles on the street and killing several people, a scene shown in medias res at the start of the film.

Gabriel instructs Stanley to launch the hydra, and turns Holly over to him once completed. However, Stanley’s back door triggers before they can leave the bank, and Stanley is recaptured while Holly is rescued. Gabriel threatens to kill Ginger, who he knows is a DEA agent, unless Stanley re-siphons the money back to a Monte Carlo bank. Despite doing so, Gabriel shoots Ginger. Gabriel and his men load the hostages on a bus and demand a plane wait for them at the local airport, but while en route, the bus is lifted off by a S-64 Aircrane and deposited on a roof of a local skyscraper. Gabriel deactivates the bombs and departs with his surviving men on a waiting helicopter, which Stanley shoots down using a rocket-propelled grenade from the bus.

Roberts takes Stanley to verify the corpse they found, believing Gabriel was a Mossad agent while there was no record of a DEA agent named Ginger. Stanley recognizes the corpse as the one he discovered earlier and personally realizes that the whole scenario was misdirection. Gabriel had escaped a different route, and Ginger had been wearing a bulletproof vest and was working with Gabriel. Roberts arranges for Stanley to have full custody of Holly, and the two tour the US together. In Monte Carlo Gabriel and Ginger withdraw the money, and later watch as a yacht at sea explodes. Over the film’s credits, a news report describes the destruction of the yacht, carrying a known terrorist, as the third such incident in as many weeks.


What does it say about a film that has a pretty decent cast, but it mainly known for a scene that last all of 15 seconds? That is the question I asked myself as I sat down to watch Swordfish this afternoon, wondering if the affinity I’ve had for this film in previous viewings is totally based on said scene. Let’s find out, shall we?

What is this about?

Determined to get his mitts on $9 billion in a secret DEA account so he can use it to fight terrorism, rogue agent Gabriel Shear recruits encryption expert Stanley Jobson to hack into the government mainframe.

What did I like?

Big action. Most thrillers aren’t known for their action scenes. With this film, the few scenes that have action are capitalized on. It makes one appreciate the  big payoff, if you will, as opposed to the kind of thing we get from Michael Bay type flicks, where it is non-stop explosions. These action set pieces are set up and executed with pulse pounding precision. It almost makes you wonder what this would have been like had it been a pure action movie.

Boss Travolta. The last time I saw Travolta as a crime boss, it was in The Punisher. He was somewhat believable there, but still felt like he was Travolta. His character in this film, Gabriel, feels like Vincent (his character from Pulp Fiction) survived being shot by Bruce Willis and just snapped. Aside from the weird hair and soul patch, I actually liked his portrayal of this guy. There is a calm on the surface, but also a murderous streak that lies under the surface. Both sides are shown when they need to be and Travolta does a masterful job of keeping those sides contained until the right time.

Hacktivism. There was a movie that came out not too long ago which had Chris Hemsworth as a hacker. It didn’t do much, partially because it had no direction. With Jackman’s hacking, he is doing it for the opportunity to be reunited with his daughter. What gets me though, is how Travolta was trying to convince him that the good of the one outweighs the good of the many.

What didn’t I like?

Miles ahead. Don Cheadle portrays a FBI agent in charge of computer crimes, or something like that. What is my problem with him? Well, he is trying to play a touch, yet cool cop. Nothing wrong with that, except there is no yang to his yin. I feel if one of the other FBI agents would have been his polar opposite, his character would have been more effective.

Techno. Is it me or does every film that has technocrime in it also have techno music? The scene where Jackman is doing his hacking thing, I felt like I was back in college, dancing at the club with some raver chicks. I’m not saying it doesn’t fit, especially for when this film was released. I’m just saying it is more of the same old, same old.

Stick it in. There is no mistaking Halle Berry is a beautiful woman with a gorgeous body. Can you blame her for wanting to show it off? If I’m not mistaken this came before Monster’s Ball, so her saying she “wanted to get used to being nude in front of the camera” is a valid point. However, the short topless scene of hers, in which she earned an extra $5,000, felt shoved in at the last minute. There are a couple of other option for Berry to have dropped her top. The first is at the pool party, where she very easily could have joined the 3 girls skinny dipping, or been seen topless somewhere. The other is in her lingerie scene. No one said she had to be wearing a bra there. At least with these scenes, I wouldn’t feel like I was force-fed a half-naked Halle Berry…that’s what Catwoman is for.

Final verdict on Swordfish? Surprisingly, this film has held up over time. Sure, a few things are dated, but for the most part, this film could be released today and still be as relevant to audiences. That said, I do have some issues with this film, but they are few and far between. When it gets down to it, though, do I recommend this flick? Yes, it is a solid viewing. Check it out!

4 out of 5 stars


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