As if the film anticipated how much more true that would become in the future. 22 years later and we see evidence of it now more than ever before. Despite that one line having lasting impact, the rest of the film really doesn't. There's something about it that just seems too dated for its own good. It's not the older tech of the film, b/c "War Games" is even older (1985) and that holds up much better. It's just this film doesn't have the stellar quality in terms of the performances despite the talent brought together for it.
The film opens in 1969, where college students Martin and Cosmo are hacking into computer networks (using university tools, no less) to relocate governmental conservative funds to liberal associations of their choosing. Under the impression that they're making right, no remorse peppers their illegal actions until the police arrive on the scene and arrest Cosmo for his crimes. Out buying food for their night of "sneaking," Martin thus goes into hiding and makes a new name for himself in the years following.
We catch up with him in 1992, where has changed his name to Martin Bishop (Robert Redford) and where he has embarked on a fruitful career as a security specialist. Hired by major companies to protect their software from potential hackers, he, along with a team of technological experts, make bank keeping firewalls firm and codes strong. Few know of his past encounter with the law - so imagine his surprise when two agents (Timothy Busfield and Eddie Jones) arrive in his office with an offer that he won't much be inclined to refuse.
Well aware of former identity, they provide him with a quasi-threatening ultimatum. If he and his team steal a "black box" from Dr. Gunter Janek (Donal Logue), a Russian scientist, they will clear his name and enable him to live life without fear of having his past catch up with him. Do the opposite and he'll be arrested, his new existence completely thrown away. Persuaded that the box, said to be a sort of weapon to be utilized by the Russian government, will cause more harm than good, he reluctantly agrees, his colleagues following close behind. But as in all good and decent caper films, there is more than what meets the eye - and this black box is much more of a threat than what was originally thought possible.
Most of the time, I'm fond of films like "Sneakers," which are thrilling but also witty, fitted with impressive casts that are brought down to Earth as affable anti-heroes. The movie is made in the same tradition as other capers, "The Thomas Crown Affair" and "The Italian Job" coming to mind, but it doesn't always match their slickness; it's supposed to be fizzy, even fulgent, entertainment, but it is too reliant on star power and electronic cred when it should be more intent on directorial crispness, a snappy screenplay. But "Sneakers" lies there rather limply, with so much focus on Redford, who is in fine form here, that the big name cast seems to stick around simply to fulfill character types, none standing as three-dimensional supporters. Aside from Ben Kingsley, who turns up (with a cringeworthy American accent) in a nicely villainous role, there is no reason for the film's ensemble to be comprised of household names. Box-office attraction is all the rage, I guess.
There are some decently wicked lines here and there, and some of the cardboard cutouts of supplemental characters do get a chance to break out of their confines and do deliver what we'd hope they might; Mary McDonnell is sexy and clever as Redford's ex-girlfriend turned partner-in-crime, and David Strathairn is becomingly deadpan as a blind conglomerate. But "Sneakers" is an otherwise dated thriller vulnerable to losing its charm as the computer age thickens and as its stars slowly descend into the pitfalls that peck at heavyweights of the past.
Such a classic spy/sleuth/espionage film that's funny, smart, and suspenseful. Great performances by the whole cast!
With a big-name cast and a thievery plot, Sneakers is clearly a contemporary attempt to resurrect the glory of the caper genre which has not been notorious for decades. However, Sneakers also attempts to go very legitimate in its path and reduce the humour to a minimum. There are still some jokes in parts thanks to the charms of the cast, but Sneakers is a film with minimal comedic edge since it desires to be a very legitimate film. Unfortunately, it ends up in a conservative state as a result.
Sneakers was not the fun experience I was expecting. Though it makes an effort to be a caper film, Sneakers also makes the effort to be a part of the conspiracy thriller genre. As a result it evokes slight memories to star Robert Redford's past in the espionage thriller Three Days of the Condor (1975). However, it doesn't follow the same practical path that Three Days of the Condor did since it spends the majority of its focus on the characters talking out all the theoretical details of their scheme. Sneakers is therefore not much of a practical film, but one more concerned in finding thrills within logistics and conspiracies. This means that the dialogue is very much a lot of little things contributing to building a bigger picture without managing to craft sufficient drama in the process. The story manages to keep moving through all this, but it does it at a dull pace without ever taking a second to do anything with the characters.
Sneakers has a script which is too machine to capitalize on the talents of the cast. They are talented at what they achieve in the film, but there is a lack of humanity in the experience due to the story's insistence on depicting everything through talking and implications without actually putting them up on the screen. Sneakers has a great story implied in its subtext, but what it actually brings to the surface proves to be a tedious and mind-numbing collection of conversations which get so caught up in conspiracy jargon that it becomes easy to lose interest and focus very fast. It never has any surprises after that because once Sneakers establishes its path it meanders its way through it from start to finish with a lack of dramatic satisfaction as a result. I walked away from the film having learned nothing except being reminded of how talented Sidney Poitier is as an actor, and I couldn't help but feel like a lot of talented actors put their time into a film which was not up to the standard of their talents.
In terms of style, the cinematography is able to constantly give viewers of Sneakers a claustrophobic feeling. Most of the shots occur within rather small spaces and occur very close up to emphasize the tension of the small spaced surrounding the characters. However, it is rendered rather mute by the fact that the lighting in Sneakers is a major technical flaw. With so much of the film taking place at night or within confined rooms, there is minimal lighting that ultimately makes its way onto the screen and causes the film to be essentially a massive blur of shadow. It's possible to see what is happening if you look closely enough, but doing so is far from an enjoyable experience and certainly does not give the film the effective atmosphere that it truly desires. To transcend a script this boring, Sneakers would have to stop getting distracted by its many characters and subplots. It would also need to use more engaging character interactions and music if it wanted to build the atmosphere it aspires to, but the fact that it gets bogged down with such poor lighting is simply a rookie mistake on behalf of director Phil Alden Robinson.
Quite frankly, an ensemble film with a large collection of talented names that condemns the cast into spending the entire film talking a lot of theoretical language which is not ultimately put into all that much practical use. But this doesn't prevent them from bringing in solid efforts.
Sidney Poitier is the best actor in Sneakers. The legendary actor proves that he has still lost none of his charisma after all these years because Sneakers proves his ability to transcend a big-name cast with a performance that stands above all others. Despite the very machine nature of the film's plot, Sidney Poitier is the most humane aspect of the feature due to his ability to find raw tension in every scene. The intended atmosphere of the film is grasped by the tenacious dramatic charisma of Sidney Poitier who flows along with the story so easily that every second he is on screen is nothing short of a treat.
Robert Redford is a natural skill as well. With an organic edge of sophistication to him and a natural ability to work in an ensemble, Robert Redford is able to keep his dramatic spirit consistently alive while bouncing off all his surrounding actors. Robert Redford captures the intended level of tension and keeps it active in the role while managing to ensure he has a tenacious understanding of all the science behind the film. He is swift with his line delivery and always to the point yet restrained enough not to push the dramatic limits on his character, effectively bringing natural charisma into his part.
River Phoenix has always been a well-respected lead actor, but Sneakers is an opportunity for him to work with an ensemble cast. Unfortunately, this means that his talents are reduced to minimal screen time and his charms are largely underutilized even though they are clearly distinctive. There is insufficient screen time given to Dan Akroyd as well who really brings in an intelligent supporting effort.
So Sneakers has a skilful cast led by the enormously talented Sidney Poitier, but with repetitive imagery, an abundance of talking and a shortage of characterization, it is far from compelling enough grasp viewers.
So utterly disappointing by the end. I saw this when it first came out in theatres in 1992, and again on DVD today.
My review never changed.
A comedy w an unfunny script, a caper film w no tension; lifeless wasted cast, overbearing music, standard camera work.
It's a legendary cast who got together and relished each moment together behind the scenes, and none of it shows on screen.
This could have been a high camaraderie caper flick like Its A Mad Mad World, but it is lifeless, uneventful, tedious, fake and flat.
They paid their rent. That's about it.
It was horrible in the theatre when I first saw it, and as invigorating as a blank wall today.
A waste of talent, w a one-note joke about the-blind-guy-driving at the end.
Too little too late.
And you can watch that scene on YouTube and save yourself over two hours of wasted time.
Even the director and writer doing the DVD commentary talk like it's a dull clinical exercise.
An amazing misfire.
Need to take an afternoon nap?
This is for you.
You will want to turn down the sound bc of the obnoxious soundtrack - its the one thing in the film trying to grab for your attention.
I kept wanting something to happen or to catch a funny quip, but nothing.
1 out of 5
Plot sounded interesting enough - civilians get hired by the NSA to hack the research of a potential Russian scientist. However, almost from the start it lacks focus. Too many silly scenes and dialogue.
Throw in a plot that isn't entirely watertight, or plausible, and things go off course pretty quickly. Direction is far from solid, too. Things don't always make sense, or follow properly.
It has its moments though. The game of high-stakes espionage was interesting at times.
All-star cast mostly give solid performances. However, Ben Kingsley is badly miscast as the bad guy. The role seemed so beneath him, especially as he gets to be a stereotypical Bond-type villain, and has to put on a fake, barely believable, New York accent.