Thursday, March 24, 2011

Flick of The Day: Sneakers

spyIt is strange how often film's can be of their time, existing only in the zeitgeist and seeming out of date very quickly. Some things age very well, comedies like Laurel & Hardy and Some Like It Hot are as funny today as they ever were while others age unfavourably, particularly anything involving technology unless there is a deeper message. Today's film is a high tech thriller from 1992, Sneakers, that has aged well for precisely this reason. It raises questions about the effect of technological advance on how we live rather then focusing on it.
Possessed of a cast to die for and a great script, director Phil Alden Robinson makes good use of both. The cast reads like a who's who of some of the best talent of the last forty years; Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, James Earl Jones, Ben Kingsley, David Strathairn, River Phoenix and Dan Aykroyd. The film opens with a prologue on a snowy University campus in December 1969. Two students are hacking into bank accounts and making illegal wire transfers from the likes of Richard Nixon to the likes of committee for the legalisation of marijuana. One of them, Martin played by Redford goes for Pizza while the other Cosmo, played Kingsley waits. The police come, Martin escapes while Cosmo is caught and sent to prison. Fast forward to now and Martin runs a private security contractor with his partners ably played by Poitier, Strathairn, Phoenix and Aykroyd.  He is approached by government agents who are aware of his true past and offer to clean his record if he obtains a little black box from a mathematician called Gunther Janik. Of course nothing is as it seems and the box turns out to be a very valuable piece of equipment that can break any code and any encryption.
The film raises some interesting questions about how much we as a society rely on computers and their encryption to manage our everyday lives. As Ben Kingsley's character puts it:

"There's a war out there, old friend. A world war. And it's not about who's got the most bullets. It's about who controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think... it's all about the information! "

This is as relevant if not more relevant today as it was then. With each passing day we become more reliant on technology. Almost all governmental records in relation to taxation, income, marriage are computerised with no paper record. The question the film poses is what if these records weren't as safe as we thought them. If anything could be accessed, what might the consequences be? 

"Pollution. Crime. Drugs, poverty, disease, hunger, despair - we throw GOBS of money at them and problems only get worse. Why is that? Because money's most powerful ability is to allow bad people to continue doing bad things at the expense of those who don't have it."

The film is a thriller at heart though and it delivers on this front. The attempt to steal the black box back from Cosmo is a highlight with some wonderfully tense moments to keep you involved. Perhaps the film's strongest suit is it ensemble cast. All of the main performers are likeable and Ben Kingsley is devilish as the bad guy with a twisted ideology. The interplay between the team is excellent with some funny sparring matches between Dan Aykroyd's conspiracy theorist and Sidney Poitier's ex-CIA agent.
In summary, this is a memorable film with an interesting story driven by some excellent performances. The film is greater then the sum of its parts and is rounded off nicely with a good ending. There is something enjoyable about the bad guys losing out at the expense of the good guys. Well worth a look.

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