After previously appearing on HD DVD, Swordfish now makes an appearance on the rival Blu-ray format. Made in 2001, the film is a hi tech thriller about a “super hacker” named Stanley Jobson (Hugh Jackman) who has been convicted of computer crime and subsequently been banned from ever touching a computer as part of his parole conditions. In a movie cliché, this man lives in a motor home in the middle of nowhere, living in squalor, and estranged from his wife and daughter who are now living with a porn baron.
Into his life comes Ginger Knowles (Halle Berry), who offers him a $10m payday if he carries out a task for Gabriel Shear (John Travolta). The task involves hacking into a government slush fund and transferring the money to Shear, who plans to use it to fund counter terrorism. Jobson is initially reluctant, but Shear and Knowles have a trump card. The money will enable him to possibly gain custody of his daughter.
Unfortunately the agent who is after Shear (J T Roberts - Don Cheadle) is also aware of Jobson's past. Indeed, he was the agent who originally arrested Jobson. But the lure of gaining custody of his daughter proves too much for our super hacker and he accepts the job. As the film progresses, several major characters start to reveal that maybe they are not all we thought they were, and some characters motivations are also hidden from us and the main protagonists until later in the film.
Swordfish was a film which had managed to pass me by up until now. I was aware that Halle Berry was paid a substantial amount of money to flash her breasts, and to be honest the cynicism of this had rather put me off watching it. When I did sit down with it, however, I was very pleasantly surprised.
The beginning of the movie is not promising, as Travolta makes a speech about Hollywood that sounds like a very early rejected monologue from a Tarantino movie. However, from this beginning we segue seamlessly (and cleverly) into a hostage situation which builds tension before cumulating in an absolutely stunning set piece.
This beginning is really a template for the whole film, alternating scenes of over showy dialogue, which is badly written and clunky, with action scenes that really do impress. This makes the film rather a dichotomy. It certainly lacks the character development and decent script of top quality action films such as Lethal Weapon (1987), but it does have action scenes to rival these two films, and it does have a reasonably interesting plot, with some interesting twists and turns.
At the time the film was made, the main cast were not particularly well known (apart from Travolta, of course) - but interestingly, all of them have gone on to become stars. None of them have a 100% record of quality on their CV, but they have all managed to build up a solid reputation. Of the four, Jackman probably does himself most credit here. He doesn't have many scenes where he gets to truly show his acting chops, but what he is given to do he handles well. He also manages to look enthusiastic about the material, which is more than can be said about Travolta who almost seems to be sleep walking through the film at times. Halle Berry plays an early version of her later Bond character, and shows little of the acting skills that she showed in Monster's Ball (2001). Her choice to accept the extra money to go topless in what is, essentially, a totally unnecessary scene shows Hollywood at its most cynical.
Despite all its flaws, however, I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent in the world of Swordfish. Yes, the dialogue is stilted, but the action scenes are very enjoyable indeed, and the story was interesting enough to keep me entertained despite the films flaws. Critics were not too kind to this movie, which contributed towards me giving it a miss for all these years, but to me this is a very enjoyable Saturday night popcorn flick. It doesn't pretend to be anything more than that, and as long as you are aware of this, and don't expect high art, you are unlikely to be disappointed.
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