USA, 2001. Rated R. 99 minutes.

Cast: John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Sam Shepard, Vinnie Jones, Camryn Grimes, Zach Grenier, Angelo Pagan, Chic Daniel
Writer: Skip Woods
Music: Paul Oakenfold, Christopher Young, Madonna (song "What It Feels Like for a Girl")
Cinematographer: Paul Cameron
Producers: Jonathan D. Krane, Joel Silver, Paul Winze
Director: Dominic Sena


Grade: C+ Review by Carlo Cavagna

A dmittedly, reviewing a movie like Swordfish is not as challenging as critiquing a brilliant but esoteric and complex art film. But it can give a critic fits. Or, more accurately, it can give me fits. How many different ways are there to say, "It kinda sucked, but it was cool." How can I explain why I enjoyed a film if every time I put my fingers on the keyboard, I can think of only negative things to say? Swordfish is that kind of movie: the sort of preposterously-plotted movie that takes you for a moderately entertaining ride, but by any rational measure, ought not to.

The intellectually minded cineaste, if you could even drag one to see a movie like Swordfish, would observe that the negatives are overwhelming. The protagonist, Stanley Jobson (Hugh Jackman), is a hacker with superhuman ability, but a somewhat gullible nature. We are asked to believe that he's living in a trailer in Texas and abiding by the terms of his early release from jail, which call for him not to get within miles of his keyboard or his daughter. The daughter, obviously, forms the basis of Subplot Number One. You can always count on Hollywood to insert an innocent child into the mix to raise the stakes, because the threats of terrorism, destruction, and mass murder just aren't enough to worry about.

We are asked to believe that that there is some super badass guy with a secret agenda who "lives in a world beyond our world"--and, further, that he looks like John Travolta. This badass dude, Gabriel Shear, decides to hire Stanley after his first choice is nabbed trying to slip through customs, and his Secret Agenda turns out to be broadly written ends-justify-the-means government conspiracy/ultra-secret agency claptrap. To lure Stanley into his macho world where a man's worth of a man is determined by the size of his…gun, and the worth of a woman is--oh wait, they have no worth--Gabriel deploys Ginger (Halle Berry), Halle Berry and John Travoltawhose true motivations and bare breasts constitute the basis of Subplot Number Two.

We are asked to believe that the utterly meaningless computer jargon signifies…something. We are asked to believe that a helicopter can transport a bus full of people, which, since Speed taught us that buses can fly, is probably not too much of a stretch…. I could go on, but why bother? The short of it is that the conflicts are broad and the plot is ludicrous. The more you analyze a movie like Swordfish, the more annoyed you get at it. The point of Swordfish isn't to stimulate Deep Thoughts about Important Things; the point is to go along with it and have a little fun.

So why is Swordfish fun? It just…is. At least, it is if you are a fan of action and escapism every once in awhile, and appreciate style and production value. Swordfish is a victory of style over substance, pyrrhic victory though it may be. The opening credits recall The Matrix, as does the first major effects sequence in the film, an explosion on a city street recorded by hundreds of cameras from hundreds of angles. The resulting shots are edited together to make it seem as if the camera sweeps dizzyingly through all the different angles and perspectives while the explosion continues in slow motion.

Before this first explosion, Travolta delivers a riveting monologue on the merits of Hollywood movies--and Dog Day Afternoon in particular--through which the makers of Swordfish thumb their noses at those intellectually minded cineastes. This is Travolta's best moment in the film. He spends the rest of the movie seeming rather bloated and ridiculous. The star, though, is Hugh Jackman (The X-Men, Someone Like You). Swordfish, his third U.S. film, leaves no question that he's got major Movie Star appeal to go along with his latter-day Clint Eastwood thing, and now just needs someone to hand him a major dramatic role to prove himself as a Serious Actor. Upping the charisma quotient are Don Cheadle as the FBI agent pursuing Stanley and Gabriel, and Berry, who was apparently paid one million dollars to remove her top. Her film career doesn't justify her level of fame, but I doubt few male filmgoers are complaining. For some unfathomable reason, Sam Shepard also makes an appearance as a shady Senator, providing the basis of largely irrelevant Subplot Number Three.

Swordfish is simply a bit of fun. If you insist on getting into the hows and whys, or if you're interested in what the wanton violence and amorality says about the Decline of Western Civilization, you just shouldn't see Swordfish in the first place. It can't withstand that kind of scrutiny. Swordfish is a 99-minute diversion. The only lasting impressions it leaves are that Hugh Jackman is now a major star, that Halle Berry needs a better agent, and that John Travolta soooo needs to get over himself. It's beginning to seem that, by casting him in Pulp Fiction, Tarantino resurrected a career better left dead.

Review © June 2001 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2001 Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved.

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