Swordfish


Directed by: Dominic Sena
Written by:Skip Woods
Starring: John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Vinnie Jones, Sam Shepard
Released: June 28, 2001
Grade: C+

The film opens with a glimpse of the ending.  Sitting in a cafe we find Gabriel (Travolta) and Stanley (Jackman) discussing the problem in the way terrorists are depicted on screen.  We soon find this chat is not a simple conversation starter.  Gabriel and Stanley are holding over 20 hostages in the cafe as police wait helplessly outside.  Exactly how did we get in this situation?

The past is then revealed.  Gabriel is an elusive terrorist and his latest scheme is something that only a screenwriter could conjure up.  Up until 1984, the government was stashing away millions earned from money laundering.  Threatened with exposure, the operation shut down but the money continued to earn interest and went from its initial $400 million to its current day $9.5 billion (that’s a 24% effective interest rate - give me a piece of that!).

Guarding the money is a high-tech computer system and Gabriel’s girlfriend, Ginger (Berry), believes she knows the man who can break into it.  Stanley has a history of “cyber crime” and has only recently been released after a two year stint in prison.  In that time, he lost custody of his daughter and has been ordered by the court to never to touch a computer again.  In a show of financial strength, Gabriel persuades Stanley to return to the business with a juicy $10 million offer.

Swordfish has promise but I constantly doubted its legitimacy.  One feels that “real life” cyber crime isn’t quite as exciting and that writer Skip Woods has tried to put a little too much colour and flair into the craft.  The scenes where Jackman sits at a computer trying to hack in are hopelessly unrealistic.  How can a man who hasn’t touched a computer in years crack the government’s highest security codes in a matter of days?  Not a comforting thought.

The ending is especially weak - a ludicrous bus chase followed by a quick resolution and a senseless twist.  It’s a shame the film ended on such a note because it was interesting for the majority (despite the flaws).

Backed by strong dialogue, Hugh Jackman deserves praise but John Travolta surprised with his dynamic performance (reminiscent of Face/Off).  Hale Berry was paid an additional $500,000 for a 5-second scene in which she bears her breasts.  The scene was totally unnecessary and I cannot understand why Berry agreed to do it (apart from the money) and why director Dominic Sena decided to include it.  I think the studio might have had the final say on this one.

The pivotal action scenes are well shot and don’t succumb to the recent trend of over editing (I particularly loved the Matrix-like explosion at the beginning).  The film deserves its MA rating - not for the violence but for the many unnecessary sexual references.  Apart from Berry’s breasts, there’s a scene in which Jackman gets a blow-job whilst hacking into a computer.  Can I ask why?

Following Pearl Harbor and Tomb Raider, it is strike three in the Hollywood action stakes of 2001.  With the class of 2000 generally regarded as the worst ever, 2001’s line-up is looking even sicker.  Do I even dare predict what’s in store for 2002?