Movies aren’t always that best at portraying technology. Too often tech is portrayed clumsily and inaccurately, with the screenwriters and other people involved apparently hoping 90% of the audience doesn’t care or doesn’t catch the simplistic ways it’s used or abused. One of the better movies, at least in the last 25 years, was the 1992 comedic caper thriller Sneakers. Since news broke earlier this week that NBC is working on a TV series version of the movie it seemed like a great time to revisit a movie that often doesn’t get the credit or accolades it really is due.
The story follows Martin Bishop (Robert Redford, at his most effortlessly charming), who has put together a ragtag team of security experts who go around testing the defenses of banks and other institutions to find weaknesses that need to be addressed. On the team are an ex-FBI member (Sidney Poitier), a conspiracy nut who’s great with gadgets (Dan Ackroyd), a blind cryptologist (David Strathairn) and a…you know what I’m not sure what Carl (River Phoenix) is good at. They all get involved in a plot to steal a code-breaking device that’s sought by multiple governments and other parties and which brings Bishop face-to-face with a man (Ben Kingsley) who knows all about the past Bishop has been running from the past few decades.
At the top of the movie’s poster we’re told this comes from the same director of Field of Dreams, which was a pretty strong point to make back in the early 90s. What’s kind of amazing, though is that much of the rest of the poster is white space, albeit white space with the giant names of the stars on it. Only at the bottom of the one-sheet do we see those stars as they peek out from underneath what seems like a piece of paper or curtain that’s hanging in front of them. Copy below the title treatment sets up who they are by telling us “A burglar, a spy, a fugitive, a delinquent, a hacker, and a piano teacher…and these are the good guys.” That’s a nice little moment of additional levity that helps reinforce the attitude of the film.
The trailer starts out by introducing us to the team and their mission, to break into banks on behalf of those banks, as well as their eccentricities. The movie’s sense of humor and jazzy pacing are immediately evident as we see them working on a client project and bickering good-naturedly while doing so. Redford even makes a “We’re getting too old for this” crack to acknowledge he’s not as young as he used to be. Soon though they’re recruited by the NSA, though for what isn’t immediately clear. He recruits Mary McDonnell’s Liz to help out and we then see that they’re after a codebreaker of some kind. From there on out the action and tension are ramped up as the heist goes down, though there are still plenty of instances where the humor shines through. “Too many secrets” is spelled out, signaling the core point of the story, which was remarkably prescient in the age of Wikileaks and other outlets who aim to weaponize information to one degree or another.
Honestly, how much fun is this trailer? Everything that makes the movie great is on display here, from the lighthearted nature of the team to the story of information secrecy and data security. While Redford is obviously the topline star the ensemble shines through, with the whole cast getting plenty of time in the spotlight. The story of the search for the encryption breaker is laid out pretty well, though not in great details because it does get pretty wonky and would take away from selling the spirit of the movie. And the big reveal, including the reason Bishop declares he doesn’t work for the government, isn’t hinted at all, again likely a victim to it not being at the core of the movie’s value proposition, which is a rompy good time with a group of A-List actors who are obviously having a good time with lighter material.
I know I keep saying this, but it’s so great how consistent the attitude and style of the movie’s campaign is. Everything here speaks to how fun the movie will be, promising the audience a techno-thriller with a distinct and obvious sense of humor. While there are certain plot points that are obviously kept under wraps there isn’t really an element of the movie’s presentation that’s hidden or obscured in the campaign. If you haven’t seen it and want to find out what an intelligent, fun and thrilling movie about the perils and promise of technology looks like, this is the choice to make.