by Jason Whyte
In the opening of "Swordfish," an action scene occurs that is actually at the middle of the story and is used as a appetite-whetter, where we come right into the middle of a standoff scene between our main characters and the police in a coffee shop. As I watched it, I thought of something funny: you can critique this scene either postively or negatively and still have a valid argument; that either you like the fact the film opens with the bang, in the tradition of any James Bond film, or it infuriates you that the filmmakers couldn't think of any other way to start the story and throw an action scene to help caffinate the viewers.However, it's the dialogue that opens the film that saves it, (shot for some reason in-and-out of focus, but not too irritating), where Gabriel (John Travolta) is drinking his espresso and talking about where Hollywood is going wrong with films. I liked this conversation, because it's not only smart, but it hints at what is to come. And hey, we should have a little taste at the action before the story really begins.
"One more mention of Halle Berry topless and I swear to god..."
It's things like this that propel "Swordfish", which is certainly not a great film by any means and won't hit anyone's Top Ten list, however it is a simply cheeky and notable one. I sat with a enjoyed smile on my face throughout. It's tongue is firmly in its cheek but not too far, and the film kind of winks at you as well.
It even has a serviceable story in the mix. After the opening sequence, we meet Gabriel again, who we find out is the leader of a terrorist group, who is planning a theft of approximately $9 billion from online banks. However, to get in, he needs the services of Stanley (Hugh Jackman), an ex-hacker, one of the best of the game, to break in. Stanley doesn't want any part of this, but the financial gain of working for Gabriel would help get his daughter (Camryn Grimes) back from his porn-star of an ex-wife. This sets up a remarkable heist where Gabriel and his partners, the lovely yet questionable Ginger (Halle Berry) and the tough-as-steel Marco (the always welcome Vinnie Jones) work with Stanley against the authorities, mostly from Roberts (Don Cheadle), who is hot on Gabriel's tail.
There are many little surprises in Swordfish and some characters who don't seem to be who they say they are, but thankfully this isn't done to the extreme. As well, the computer-play isn't too technical for the casual moviegoer; it's easy to follow along, even if the computer screens look fake with bogus commands (would a monitor really flash "ACCESS GRANTED" in large green letters in the center of the screen?).
The action in the film is handled well. Even at 100 minutes with credits, the action pieces are not jammed into every reel, but they form out of the story and the lives of these people. As preposterous as it all is, it is fun to watch John Travolta holding what looks like a massive machine gun, or Hugh Jackman chase a helicopter with a bazooka. And it is certainly funny to watch a bus chase turn into an aerial pursuit. I wish director Dominic Sena, however, would lighten up on the green-tinge to his photography, which slightly looks like the use of green in "The Matrix." Even one shot in the film looks similar, where we see a 360 degree view of a disaster.
When I saw "X-Men" last year, I remarked how good Hugh Jackman was in Bryan Singer's film and knew that he would become a succesful actor. Earlier this year, he showed even more promise in the disastraous "Someone Like You" (which I called his performance "The silver lining in the cloud of a very bad movie"). Here, he makes Stanley instantly likable and someone to root for, even though he gets too much over his head at first, he does revert from his errors and works to resolve them. He's matched by John Travolta, in full-camp mode, as Gabriel. Travolta's witty chat and remarks make him a fun bad guy. Halle Berry, as Ginger, has her moments. Vinnie Jones, like his role in "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels", speaks less and acts silent more. And finally, the always likable Don Cheadle is good as the cop in charge of finding Gabriel.There are people actually talking and communicating in "Swordfish", in more smart dialogue than cliches. And this seems to be one of the very few action films this year to seem to want the "R" rating for the graphic violence, nudity and language. For some reason, as much as I would object to the use of it, Sena and screenwriter Skip Woods seem to like it, and they've made a fun, big movie out of it that is quite an enjoyable ride. So why not revel in it.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=5326&reviewer=350
originally posted: 04/08/04 17:22:52