October 14, 1992

Sneakers

sneakersA fun gadget-filled thriller, sort of a cross between The Sting and Ocean's Eleven: Robert Redford is the leader of a freelance counter-security outfit: Redford's gang of oddballs are hired to break into high-security banks, laboratories, etc, for the purpose of testing the quality of your security systems. At the end of the day, they return the heist and explain how to fix your security lapses. He's hired by the NSA to steal the ultimate codebreaker/MacGuffin: a mathematician has solved the puzzle of unsolvable codes and hard-wired it into a chip which can break into any computer system. As Sidney Poitier says, "There isn't a government in the world that wouldn't kill us all to get their hands on this thing." Soon people start dying, they're in way over their head, and they have to steal back the box from a impregnable fortress to save their lives and save Redford from prison.

The final adventure is an elaborate heist, very similar to the schemes in Ocean's Eleven movies: techno-gadgets combined with simple con games, riding on top of elevators, hacking into security cameras, stealing ID badges, etc. Rewatching the movie 15 years later, it's still a fun ride, despite half the technology being improbable, and the other half hopelessly outdated. The cast is very odd: Redford's team consists of Sidney Poitier, Dan Aykroyd, David Strathairn, River Phoenix, and Mary McDonnell. (While watching McDonnell and Redford's scenes on TV, my wife said "is this the most cold fish couple you ever saw or what?") The antagonist is Ben Kingsley, with a "Silicon Valley entrepreneur" ponytail and a bizarre American accent.

In a flashback, we see the Redford character in college in 1969, played by veteran TV actor Gary Hershberger. It's always hard to cast younger versions of movie stars, because we know the star's faces so well, but this was a special challenge, because Redford was already famous in 1969 (Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid), so everyone knows exactly how the character should look: like Sundance. They found Hershberger looks like Gary Busey with a blond wig, but he's pretty convincing anyways.