Stylishly Empty: "Swordfish" (2001) Movie Review
Swordfish had it all. The cast, the budget, the locations, the crew, etc. Somehow, the final product failed to meet expectations. What could have been one of the early 2000's best action flicks was just a rather forgettable one. The movie was made on a $102,000,000 budget and grossed $147,000,000, making the film a slight box office success, but nothing worth writing your mom about. Critics were mediocre at best, highlighting the confusing plot, underdeveloped characters and dumb action scenes. Is Swordfish's bad reputation justified?
Yes and no. The movie has lots of weak points but is not as bad as critics might let you believe it is. The cast is probably what is most likely to attract you to the film. It stars John Travolta (then still hot from his Pulp Fiction 1994 comeback), Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry and Don Cheadle. While those names look good on the poster and those actors look great in the film, their characters are all stereotyped and badly underdeveloped. John Travolta's character is supposed to be mysterious but he ends up being just a confusing one. Is he good or bad? Why such a ridiculous hairstyle ? Hugh Jackman is the highlight of the film for me. This was his first role following the success of X-Men (2000) and he brings his usual charisma and is surprisingly quite believable as a hacker. Sadly, his scenes with his daughter seem forced and overly sentimental. There was much publicity surrounding Halle Berry's first topless scene. She was reportedly paid an extra 500 000$ for it. The scene appears out of nowhere and was obviously inserted to generate hype around the film. Completely pointless, if pleasing for the eyes. Her character supposedly dies at some point but we realize that it's not the case at all. This was supposed to be a big plot twist but I saw it coming as they wouldn't cast an A-list actor such as Berry only to kill her off early in the movie. The big reveal at the end of the movie is not surprising. It's simply confusing. I still don't understand how John Travolta's character faked his death. Why is there a corpse looking like him hidden in his house ? The filmmakers were probably confused too as there are numerous alternate endings (included on the DVD and Blu-ray releases). This is definitely a check-your-brain-at-the-door kind of film as the character motivations are incredibly unrealistic and obviously scripted. The whole hacker thing is laughable. None of the technological aspects in the movie looks real but again, this is not the point of watching a film like this and it would likely make an awfully boring one.
Some scenes are genuinely great. The scene in which Hugh Jackman's character needs to hack the FBI server within 60 seconds at gunpoint is original and nerve-racking. The opening sequence is also well-thought. Other than those, the rest is pretty much action-film cliché. Nonetheless, the film features some impressive action sequences. The action scenes remain completely over the top and unrealistic but they are indeed spectacular. For instance, the chase sequence involving the TVR Tuscan is well made, as is the climatic flying bus sequence near the end of the film. I was surprised this sequence was made for real as it looks so extreme I thought it would be all CGI. Sadly, there are some bad CGI shots included throughout the film that look like they were taken from a PS2 game (some explosions especially look fake) but we need not to forget that it was made in 2001. Overall, the film compares positively to other action flicks of its time (action-wise). If what you want from an action film is spectacular action and don't care much about the plot or characters, then you are likely to love Swordfish.
Another highlight of the film is its soundtrack. Composer Christopher Young and DJ Paul Oakenfold might make an unlikely duo to create the music for a film, but what they achieved here is terrific. The mix between orchestral and dance tracks helps create a cool vibe throughout the film and to actually differentiate Swordfish from other action movies. There was an album released to promote the movie that features only the Oakenfold material (with some of Young's work remixed). The album is worth getting if you like dance music and it makes a great workout playlist.
John Travolta's character says something at the beginning of the film that ironically summarizes what Swordfish is:
You know what the problem with Hollywood is? They make shit. Unbelievable, unremarkable shit. Now I'm not some grungy wannabe filmmaker that's searching for existentialism through a haze of bong smoke or something. No, it's easy to pick apart bad acting, short-sighted directing, and a purely moronic stringing together of words that many of the studios term as "prose". No, I'm talking about the lack of realism. Realism; not a pervasive element in today's modern American cinematic vision.
Well, this unremarkable shit remains at least entertaining.
Thank you for reading!