This Film is a Dark, Biting, and Fun One-Time Watch
Although I cannot say that Swimming with Sharks is any kind of cinematic masterpiece, it certainly hits all the right points. The dialogue is snappy, the pace is quick, and the acting is intense and evocative on all fronts. Kevin Spacey, of course, is the stand-out star of the ensemble with his portrayal of the sociopathic yet multi-dimensional senior executive, Buddy Ackerman. Spacey never gives a flat or boring performance in anything he does, and he's especially good at being both terrifying and funny at the same time. It's no wonder why he went on to play one of the main antagonists in the 2011 comedy, Horrible Bosses.
From reviews and forums on the Internet, it appears as if we are all in agreement about Spacey's awesome performance in this cheeky comedy. Now if we could all come to an understanding about the ending of the film...
One of the official movie posters for "Swimming with Sharks"
The Classic Rags to Riches Story With a Twist
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Guy (Frank Whaley) tries to get his foot in the door of the movie industry by taking on a job as the personal assistant to brutal senior executive, Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey). Guy spends a horrible year fetching coffee, manning the phones, and receiving verbal and physical abuse from his boss in the hopes of eventually making it big alongside his producer girlfriend, Dawn (Michelle Forbes). After Guy is finally pushed over the edge, he attempts to teach his boss a lesson and ultimately has to make the choice about what he really wants.
This is the synopsis of the film with the spoilers left out. The twist at the end is perhaps a bit predictable if you pay careful attention to Guy's actions, desires, and motives, and it's certainly not integral to enjoying the movie. However, don't read any further if you prefer to see the film spoiler-free. It's on Netflix right now. Go watch it, absorb the brilliance that is Kevin Spacey's acting, and then come back.
Guy keeps his boss a prisoner in his own home for an evening
A Brief Review of the Ending
As I have done my duty of warning you that spoilers await, we can now begin to discuss the ending to the film. In a phone conversation, Buddy implies that he is considering firing Guy despite Guy's considerable contribution to an upcoming picture. Then, adding fuel to the fire, Guy inadvertently hears a conversation between Buddy and Dawn where they agree to meet at his house at midnight for what is presumably a sexual encounter. Enraged, Guy appears at Buddy's house, ties him up, and tortures him using physical and mental tactics. Dawn appears at midnight for their rendezvous and interrupts the situation. After a heated argument between the three, Guy aims his gun at Buddy who goads him on. Guy says he's sorry and pulls the trigger. In the next couple of scenes, it is revealed that Guy didn't shoot Buddy. Instead, he shot and killed Dawn. The two men then framed her for Buddy's torture, and Guy receives a promotion and the success that he's always really wanted.
The Ending is Perfect Because Everything Comes Full Circle
While some may feel emphatically that the ending came out of left field, I'd argue that there could be no other finish to the film. It brings everything full circle with Guy embodying what he (superficially) hated and essentially morphing into another Buddy Ackerman. From a story telling standpoint, there is no other feasible way to end the film. There has to be motion, an action, that will propel him out of the corner he painted himself into. He cannot simply back out and free Buddy, because that would mean that he would, at the very least, lose his job and would most likely lose his girlfriend. He cannot shoot Buddy, because then he would be arrested and lose any shot he had at attaining success. The only correct answer to the riddle is to prove to Buddy that he has what it takes and to kill the only thing that is standing in his way: his superficial love for Dawn. By killing his darling, so to speak, Guy is able to develop the ruthless personality that is necessary for success in the entertainment business.
Benicio del Toro makes a brief appearance in the film
What Guy Wants All Along is Success in the Business
Although it's tempting to think of Guy as this sweet, naïve fella, especially at the beginning of his employment with Buddy, this was never the case. His focus was always on climbing the company ladder, which is evident in his interactions with Dawn. He only agrees to go out with her when she brings up the fact that she and Buddy are connected in their work. On their first evening out, he tells her that he's a writer, and she asks him, point blank, why he's choosing to be a doormat for Buddy. He seems uncomfortable with her question and flounders in trying to answer her. He cannot tell her that what he really wants is success. Guy doesn't want to write scripts for the sake of art or his passion for movies, like he tells her. Instead, he wants to get his foot in the door so he can have all the perks that Buddy does.
From then on out, whenever we see Dawn and Guy together, they're never talking about their relationship or simply enjoying each other's company. Instead, they are discussing what to do about Dawn's picture she wants to pitch and how to get Buddy to say yes to the project. This is demonstrative of Guy's focus in the film. While he may kiss and hug Dawn and be sweet with her, his eyes are always on the prize, which does not include Dawn.
When Guy makes his decision to visit Buddy and enact his revenge, the audience is lured into thinking that it's because of Guy's passion for Dawn. This is never the case. The catalyst for Guy's breakdown, although not apparent right away, is the threat to his job; the fact that Dawn is planning to have a sexual rendezvous with Buddy is just icing on the cake. However, the reason Guy feels sickened by this is not because of any love or true affection towards Dawn; it is because Buddy is taking away elements of his life that Guy feels he is entitled to keep.
The Sweet & Low Scene (contains some adult language)
It Could Happen to You
What's so unsettling about Guy's transformation from bumbling hero to brutal villain is that it happens so gradually that it's nearly impossible to detect the changes. This idea of anyone becoming sadistic and cruel is hammered down when you look at the characters' innocuous names. Both "Guy" and "Buddy" are generic, non-threatening terms for an average man. There's nothing that would suggest that any person with one of those names is anything other than the ordinary, run-of-the-mill person. In spite of his apparent ordinariness, Guy crushes everything in his path and ascends the ladder to become a man that is far from the norm.
Guy has an uncomfortable experience on his first day
See the Film and Decide for Yourself
This film is a delightful one-time romp into the darkest corners of the human psyche. From beginning to divisive end, it keeps the tension high. Because we grow to appreciate Guy's struggle, it's tempting to make concessions for Guy's behavior or to become indignant towards the conclusion of the story altogether. However, when you step back and reevaluate Guy's motives from the very beginning, it's easy to see where this calculated decision came from.
Rate Swimming with Sharks
B on February 25, 2020:
If Buddy wanted Dawn killed for some reason it makes sense. Maybe DelToro character just got promoted for handling his wife.
Fred on October 20, 2018:
Tedious film of little merit in any sense, obvious and banal.
Steve on June 03, 2018:
Why does Buddy go along with the cover-up, he has nothing to gain?
Luis on February 08, 2018:
Hidden Gem from the 90s, always thought it was an underrated movie. Similar to all the Weinstein talk right now. What ever to the guy who played Buddy. Had other good movies.
David Lyttle on February 03, 2017:
I enjoyed the film up to the point Guy kills Dawn. Hard to be sympathetic to a cold-blooded killer. In terms of satisfaction I would have liked to have seen Guy carefully setting up Buddy to take a fall with a few close calls and lots of suspense, then he gets promoted to Buddy's job and his assistant is Buddy. Any way I loved Guy's speech at the end...
Kyle on March 06, 2016:
One problem with this ending. Buddy would not promote Guy after the torture scene. Buddy only cares about himself so it just wouldn't happen. The only way this would work is if Guy had some sort of blackmail on Buddy which he doesn't.
It would have been better if he killed them both. The story would be the chick tortured the dude, killed him and then killed herself. Guy was never suspected of being there. Kind of unrealistic, but possibly a better ending.
What actually might be even better is Guy kills everyone including himself.
Buddy on March 03, 2016:
I agree that those are the only three options, and the writer chose the best one, but that does not make it a good ending. The reason those are the only three options are because the writer set it up that way, and none of the three are satisfying.
The one that was eventually chosen doesn't work for me for a number of reasons. The first is implausibility. Nothing about this ending really makes sense. First, Guy wouldn't get away with it. Tons of people would testify that Dawn was not bitter about her relationship with Buddy, and that she and Guy had dated. Detectives would look into this and eventually uncover the truth. Second, Buddy wouldn't promote Guy. Even in the satirical world that Huang has set up, nobody is going to throw a bone to somebody who tortured them. Third, Guy wouldn't know that by killing Dawn he would be promoted. At no point did Buddy explicitly tell him that would be the result. Even if he had somehow implied this, given everything Guy knew about Buddy, he would have to assume Buddy was lying or somehow manipulating the situation to his advantage. Finally, it is not necessary to kill Dawn. Nobody has been murdered, so they don't need a scapegoat. Buddy can simply choose not to press charges. If you don't believe he would do that, then how can you believe he would promote him. Killing her just puts both of them in jeopardy.
My second issue is tone. This ending may have worked if Huang had taken the film in a more absurd satirical direction a la Dr. Strangelove or Coen Brothers. I would actually enjoy it had it been delivered in such a way. Instead, it's presented dramatically without a sense of humor. I like the metaphor of having to give up what you love for success, but to actually murder a woman you are in love with? Not in this world.
Thirdly and lastly, this just isn't satisfying. The protagonist who succumbs to his own antagonism can be a very powerful story. Take Godfather for instance. In the end, Michael fails to live a life outside of the family and becomes everything he hated, but it's justified. They've shot his father, killed his brother and his wife. To kill your enemy for that makes sense, but to kill your girlfriend to become Buddy doesn't make any sense. He's already seen how miserable Buddy actually is and how terrible working in the entertainment industry can be. He said it himself that Dawn is the only good thing in his shitty life. Why would he want to become Buddy? I'm not satisfied by Guy's choice. His back is not against the wall. Nobody has killed his family. He can go find another job, and be with Dawn. I just think he's stupid.
I will say I enjoyed the rest of the film. I love the way Huang starts with us on Guy's side and slowly but surely makes us understand where Buddy is coming from. I would have liked to see one of the characters change for the better. I think the best ending would have been to have Buddy realize that he's already wasted enough of his life in the industry and decide he doesn't want to do it anymore, but then have Guy kill him anyways and then kill Dawn to frame her. The final sequence is Guy moving into Buddy's office and essentially becoming him.
Coralee on January 24, 2015:
BS low - raotntaliiy high! Really good answer!