Sneakers (1992)
September 4, 2014 10:10 PM - Subscribe

Complex but lighthearted thriller about computers and cryptography, government and espionage, secrets and deception and betrayal.

Twenty-two years ago this week, Sneakers was released on an unsuspecting world. Robert Redford leads a group of hackers who test security systems, ably deputied by former spy Sidney Poitier and assisted by conspiracy nut Dan Aykroyd (not playing far from home, as it turns out), cute kid River Phoenix, blind master hacker David Strathairn, and exasperated ex-wife-slash-exposition-enabler Mary McDonnell. They stumble into a huge secret plot to... well, to say more would be to say too much.

Sneakers explores privacy, the growing influence that computers had on the world in 1992, and government's role in protecting and exploiting secrets.

(inspired by some inspired MeTa riffing)
((previously discussed on the blue))
posted by Etrigan (40 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
I love Sneakers, but Robert Redford's just not really great for the role.

SETEC ASTRONOMY
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:43 PM on September 4, 2014


I love this movie. It's not especially pulse-pounding, heartwarming, or beautiful, but it's just so charming and likeable that I can't help but watch the whole thing whenever it comes on TV. (A bit like Ocean's 11).

Speaking of which, the whole thing's available for streaming on Megashare; Movieclips also has some key scenes if you want a quick recap:
Professional Bank Robber

Defeating the Keypad

Private Investigator

No More Secrets

Changing the World

Call to the NSA

Navigating by Sound

Driving Blind

The Team's Demands
posted by Rhaomi at 12:24 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


it's just so charming and likeable

Yup. It's like Goonies that way. (Leave it alone, Hollywood.)
posted by cribcage at 12:27 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


(Er, that should be: No More Secrets)
posted by Rhaomi at 12:33 AM on September 5, 2014


I love Sneakers, but Robert Redford's just not really great for the role.

I remember coming to the stark realization -- after this charming, clever gem of a movie did Meh at the box office (#1 for a coupla weeks, but never really KABLAM) -- that Robert Redford was no longer a huge movie star. I mean, he hadn't been in anything really big since... Out of Africa, I guess, but that was Oscar bait, but The Natural... and then I realized that The Natural was way more beloved by fans (and critics) than its grosses would indicate, too. And if the goddamn Sundance Kid couldn't make a billion dollars with those movies, then he was... over.

And that made me sad.
posted by Etrigan at 5:23 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


This is one of my all-time favorites. The other day I drove across two of the bridges in SF and paid close attention to the spacing of the concrete expanders. The cast is fantastic, and even if Redford is a little too doe-eyed to play the man who got away he's still great.

The writer/producer DVD commentary track has some fascinating insight about how they came to conceive of such a profession as Sneaker. And there's a pretty good breakdown of how to cram as much meaning and layers into each scene/line/shot as possible to move all the necessary pieces of such a complicated set-up into place in a two-hour film. They call it "laying pipe."
posted by carsonb at 6:46 AM on September 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


My wife loves loves loves this film and quotes it regularly. I never saw it as a kid, and when she made me watch it recently, I thought it was...okay, I guess? I mean it's a perfect role for Ackroyd, and Tobolowsky is always fun, but most of it just didn't gel for me.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:48 AM on September 5, 2014


I think Kingsley is weird in it too. They should have just aged Jo Marr, who was completely believable, instead of having the weird, b-movie, stagey, spacey, broadly accented Kingsley replace him.
posted by maxsparber at 10:31 AM on September 5, 2014


I watched this on video maybe 10 years ago having not noticed it existed when it came out. I was totally surprised by how great it was - a rare moment of just accidentally watching something that does the thing movies do awesomely.

Quick poll for folks who have watched it more recently: Do folks think this would be appropriate to watch with my daughter who is 11 (12 in a minute)?
posted by latkes at 11:04 AM on September 5, 2014


Say what you will about James Horner, but the soundtrack for this film is fantastic; it does a ton of heavy lifting in terms of setting the film's tone, and I can still hum sections from it. How many "spy" films have a score with such a light, complex touch instead of some kind of endless Hans Zimmer thudding?

Otherwise, yeah it does seem like an example of Excellently Cast Actors Doin' Work off an OK script (America, I will watch Mary McDonnell in absolutely anything you would like to cast her in). And yeah Redford is basically furniture. Fun movie though.

PS. Whistler is the reason I ask for "Peace on Earth and good will towards men" every Christmas.

Quick poll for folks who have watched it more recently: Do folks think this would be appropriate to watch with my daughter who is 11 (12 in a minute)?


I'd think so. Some bloodless violence and threats of violence, some mild seduction scenes played for laughs.
posted by selfnoise at 11:09 AM on September 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


I always get Sleepers and Sneakers mixed up, imagine my confusion when I read 'light-hearted' in the movie description!
posted by TwoWordReview at 11:23 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Quick poll for folks who have watched it more recently: Do folks think this would be appropriate to watch with my daughter who is 11 (12 in a minute)?

It scores a relatively tame 2/4/3 on this website's scale of Sex/Violence/Profanity, which I'd say is maybe a skoonch high but is basically fair. It's an old-school PG-13, probably for the occasional swearing. I would have no qualms about showing it to my 10-year-old daughter.
posted by Etrigan at 11:27 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


There's a prominent joke about blowjobs but the rest of the blue humor is subtler and would probably go over a tween's head. There's some machine-gunnery near the climax, and a lot of fairly vicious pistol-whippery throughout. That's the worst of it, and it's not bad at all compared to more recent thriller fare.
posted by carsonb at 12:45 PM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


I unashamedly love this movie, for being what it is and doing it well. Someone upthread mentioned Goonies, which I happened to catch on TV a while ago and it made me think the same thing - they don't make them like that any more.

OFFAL NEWT GYM
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:59 PM on September 5, 2014


God, I loved this film. It's about the information, Marty!
posted by longdaysjourney at 1:32 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Yeah... yeah... above, yeah... right... uh-huh, uh-huh... yeah... right, yeah... okay. I'll give it a shot."
KICK
"That worked."
posted by Etrigan at 2:10 PM on September 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


I still find myself saying "my VOICE ismy... passport?" for no reason at all.

I really, really enjoyed this movie and haven't seen it in a while. Also notable for the subtle yet excellent utilization of a Popeil Pocket Fisherman, which made my dad guffaw.
posted by Madamina at 3:54 PM on September 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


The pull-quote I enjoy the most is used on my online dating profiles:

"He's a computer dater!"
posted by carsonb at 9:09 PM on September 5, 2014


My wife and I rewatch this movie often and quote it constantly. I'm still surprised when I learn someone's never seen it.
posted by Songdog at 9:12 PM on September 5, 2014


I used to brag to everyone who would listen that I had the same answering machine (Panasonic KX-T1450, as you all well know) as used in the film as the disguised universal code-breaking device.

Nobody was impressed. But I kept that thing for 2-3 extra years after it became obsolete because of the movie.

I'm lying, I actually still have it. I'm so ashamed.
posted by mmoncur at 3:12 AM on September 6, 2014 [7 favorites]


I thought the casting was quite good. Sure, Redford's cardboard, but he already had some history with political fims, so I don't think he was an bad choice. His blandness is balanced by the flavorful supporting characters.

When Mission: Impossible came out and had this showy scene in which Cruise can't move fast or touch the floor, etc... I really felt they had taken a page from Sneakers. Maybe it's silly, but I can't think of an earlier cinematic precedent for putting so many severe limitations on a character acting alone in a scene that's meant to be thrilling, unless maybe you look at scenes from movies set in space.And they feel like a different thing to me.

(You KNOW that if they remade this, the main guys would be fourth graders at the very beginning, just so they could be teenagers for the rest of the film.)

Those of you who love Straithairn and McDonell should be sure to watch them in Passion Fish, if you haven't already. <3 <3
posted by heatvision at 4:39 AM on September 6, 2014 [4 favorites]


From the day I saw it in the theaters, I have always enjoyed this movie. I think the comparison to the Goonies is a good one, as it's the combination of all the characters which in my opinion helps gives the movie its heart. I think the scene where they backtrack where Redford was taken by the sounds from the trunk was just dern brilliant and potentially, not one that writers would bother with today with GPS and other technological solutions. While a much better film, this movie kind of belongs in an unnamed trilogy with The Net.

I also concur with the opinion on Horner's work. It's great, playful and serious; it's what it needs to be when it needs to be noticed and when its supposed to disappear into the scene and background.

River Phoenix. "." There ya go, bud.

Sadly, I can't actively quote from this movie. Though, also tragically, if I did, it would probably be just one more movie I quote to friends and coworkers that they won't get. And finally, depressingly, they will lie to me when I tell them they need to see it. ::hangs head::
posted by Atreides at 2:56 PM on September 6, 2014


I thought the casting was quite good. Sure, Redford's cardboard, but he already had some history with political fims, so I don't think he was an bad choice. His blandness is balanced by the flavorful supporting characters.

That's a good metaphor... the rest of the cast is perfectly cooked mussels in a spicy broth, and Redford is the bread you soak them up with.
posted by selfnoise at 5:01 PM on September 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


"And give him head whenever he wants."
"And give him hea-HELP-"

Love this movie in my family. They manage to make a phone call ("Can you guarantee my safety?") totally tense. Also, the list of demands is pure gold.

"I just want her telephone number."
"A Winnebago."
"Until then, this man goes to Tahiti!"
"Oh, I'm fiiiine."
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:59 PM on September 7, 2014


I always get Sleepers and Sneakers mixed up

Ack. For me, not having really seen either except in snatches on cable, I mixed it up with Hackers. I finally got around to seeing it properly a year or two ago based on a recco here, and enjoyed it, and even more the second time around when I recently took it out from the library under the impression that I still hadn't seen it. But I did watch it again. My favorite bit is when they realize they were hoodwinked by being taken to the "federal building" (with the yelling bum), though I think it works better as a scene than it might in real life, and the handover/doublecross scene. I was a underwhelmed with the caper sequence itself, annoyed by the body-temperature stuff, which just doesn't seem realistic, and yeah, Kingsley came across a bit strange -- but then maybe that was partly because Redford's acting style is so warm and open that they didn't feel like they were quite in the same movie.

I didn't really buy Redford as a computer/security hacker, but then I didn't really buy him as a research analyst in Three Days of the Condor, and the plot more than made up for that. And in retrospect the blind man with the intensified sense of hearing feels a bit of a stretch and a tired movie trope.

Still, as an IT pro (and we're all almost there these days now), I liked how well most of the technology held up. It wasn't blown up and made ridiculous to explain to the audience as in dreadful examples like The Net.
posted by dhartung at 1:29 PM on September 7, 2014


"Wait. You can have anything in the world and you asked for my phone number?"

I unashamedly love this movie, and think it has aged pretty decently for something with a technology espionage plot.
posted by Faintdreams at 3:52 PM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure someone in my family taped this movie off HBO back in the 90s and we used to watch it over and over again. To this day, I can't explain the plot but it's just fun to watch.

It's kind of the leftist version of Ocean's 11. I love the part at the end when the newscaster says that the GOP's bank account is mysteriously empty - "they just don't know where the money went!" And meanwhile, Amnesty International just got a huge donation!

I wish it were on Netflix - it's a great lazy Sunday afternoon movie.
posted by lunasol at 7:32 PM on September 7, 2014


Thanks to this thread and the fact that it's on Netflix Streaming (good news for you, lunasol!), I bumped this up my "to watch eventually" list and saw it over the weekend. What a nice little movie it is. It could have used some small tweaks here and there but on the whole, a pleasure. Also, unexpected Donal Logue was unexpected!

Kingsley came across a bit strange -- but then maybe that was partly because Redford's acting style is so warm and open that they didn't feel like they were quite in the same movie.

This is very true. Kingsley was just tonally weird. Too much Bond Villain stuff and it didn't work for such a low-key film.
posted by PussKillian at 10:17 AM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


The other day I got an Android phone for work and it has the ability to set a passphrase to unlock the phone. Finally! I thought. And I set my passphrase to "my voice is my passport verify me" and the damn thing doesn't work very well at all. I was forced to revert to a pin lock. I've been waiting 22 years, I guess I can wait a few more. So close... so close.
posted by jeffamaphone at 6:12 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Man, all this love for Goonies here! I await the Goonies thread to post my enormous rant on what a crap volcano that was! I'm sure you're all waiting with baited breath.
posted by latkes at 8:35 AM on September 9, 2014


I think I agree with a movie critic I read at the time the movie came out (whose name I
cannot remember) about how Redford's close-up at the beginning of the movie is probably
one of the bravest things a former matinee idol has ever done. Talk bout 'IN YOUR FACE"!
"I'm old, dried up, wrinkled. Dig it."
posted by Chitownfats at 1:42 PM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Not having seen it in a while, I can't cite details, but there are lots of funny little bits, like posters on walls. It makes it fun to re-watch. I do love the ending. And David Strathairn. And the diversity of the cast and how very well they work together. My favorite line is Ackroyd's Yeah, that's where NASA faked the moon landings. So much of the best dialog is tossed out with no fanfare, which I wish were more common in movies.
posted by theora55 at 9:00 AM on September 10, 2014


My favorite line is Ackroyd's Yeah, that's where NASA faked the moon landings.

"Cattle mutilations are up."
"Don't."
posted by Etrigan at 9:15 AM on September 10, 2014 [7 favorites]


Huh. Just rewatched this with the kiddo. She loved it except for a bit of a dull stretch in the middle, but I didn't love it as well as I remember. So many really, really fantastic actors in that movie and yet... none of them got enough screen time or character development to do anything really. Ackroyd is the most charismatic somehow - but no one gets any kind of arc. The story is kind of hokey and the technology seems silly and trope-filled ("Enhance!" anyone?).

It was fun and a light, entertaining watch, but I couldn't just experience it uncritically this time for some reason.

Side distraction for me: Ben Kingsley's accent is weirdly unplaceable. I know he's English but it was like sometimes there, sometimes not, and at one moment I was like, "Is that Boston?"

Another side note: I'm reading Cryptonomicon right now so it's fun to be on a crypto-kick (although they are pretty hand-wavey about the math and cryptology here) but I feel there's a bit of debt to this movie in the crypto nerds as robin hood types thing...
posted by latkes at 10:33 PM on September 13, 2014


First film I ever saw where I was like "oh yeah, I guess cinematography is A Thing." That first shot of Redford! That closeup of Kingsley where he's talking over the PA! That shot on the rooftop that frames the already widescreen picture so it seems even wider!

Also the first film I ever saw where San Francisco is a character, not just a location.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:13 AM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


Robert Redford isn’t a hacker, he’s the Face. Even in the intro, Cosmo is doing all the hacking.

I love this movie so much.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:03 PM on June 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


This post came up in a a thread about Hackers.
posted by Pronoiac at 5:26 PM on June 27, 2015


Please SOMEBODY help us old iMDB hands and identify and/or source Ben Kingsley's cool zeppelin office artwork. I think it might be Robert Maplethorpe, but that could just be Google exhaustion talking.

(Also, bite your tongues Redford critics. The first closeup he takes is movie history (sort of):
a Hollywood leading man letting the world in on the aging process, perhaps the bravest onscreen act I've ever seen. Hyperbole, but respect.)
posted by Chitownfats at 8:23 PM on June 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ben Kingsley's cool zeppelin office artwork

I've always wondered about this too.

Maybe someone with IMDBpro could ask the set designer (via his agent)?
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0122740/
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:41 PM on June 29, 2015


Or directly. He's repped by Innovative Artists according to his personal site.
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:47 PM on June 29, 2015


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