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Swordfish

Toby Baldwin's Film Review Home

4 out of 10

This movie has some aspects to love and several to loathe. Great looking, pulse-pounding, but wrongheaded and vacuous. Ms. Berry...why?...for such a trifle as this... Rating: 4 out of 10.

Let me start with the positive: as you have heard, the opening sequence is a standout. It makes the most of John Travolta's charisma, and instantly sucks the viewer in to the world of the movie. Great start. Even Travolta, in the DVD bonus stuff, talked about taking the part due to the opening scene and then looking at how he could make the rest of the movie interesting too.

Dominic Sena has produced an even more polished-looking, slick piece of entertainment than Gone in Sixty Seconds; he has tried to make the movie actually say something as well. Unfortunately, his skills seem limited to the visual (and audial, I guess), and despite operating from an interesting premise with a stellar cast, can't make the story do much. The semi-protagonist hacker guy (Hugh Jackman, best known as Wolverine) has backstory, but it is hackneyed beyond belief. Halle Berry does her best femme fatale...er, maybe not...I'll give her the benefit of a doubt and assume she could do a better femme fatale than this, given a decent script and a director who is good with actors. Nothing interesting emerges about Berry's character Ginger. Her breasts emerge, and I don't mean to insult them, but I thought of that as less interesting than as another failed attempt to give the movie some bite.

Travolta does that thing he does so well, with the slimy-but-likeable villain who is not entirely villainous in his motives (think of the Ed Harris character in The Rock). He does well when given good material, as holds true with the rest of his career. Unfortunately for this film, the opening salvo sets a standard the rest of the movie cannot attain.

The plot is really the best thing going here, so for the sake of those who will watch this (and there really are far worse movies to waste one's time on) I won't elaborate. I think I spoil little by saying there are plenty of character twists. There are a few bar-raising action movie moments, especially one particular explosion (that looks so cool that the horror of what is being blown up gets utterly lost). The techno music fits well throughout. I can't stress enough how well Sena does with establishing a visual mood. The movie is so good on the superficial level that I wanted to believe I was watching a good movie. But then, by the time it ended, I felt nothing but a big "so what." Even the alternate endings included on the DVD (too bad Shakespeare didn't know about alternate endings, huh?) couldn't snare my interest, and that is a dead giveaway that a movie has lost me by the end. So it goes with overglossed movies whose technical and visual artistry are wasted on shallow, underdeveloped scripts.

My final harping point is that I perceived many of the decisions as desperate attempts to make this into a serious movie--gritty, edgy, riveting--something. But they didn't do that with a gripping, gut-wrenching story; they did it with about a million f-words, and by paying Halle Berry to show her breasts. The breast-selling sends a disturbing signal to any girls who might look up to Berry; it'll be hard to convince anyone that she did it for anything but the cash (her role isn't worthy of a Best Actress winner). This movie will probably seem really cool to a lot of teenagers, and the breast shot will go over big in the young male demographic. So will the language. And, sadly, the advice of the wise old teacher who tells his students, "Swearing is the way a weak mind (or script) expresses itself strongly," won't stand a chance. How could it, compared to this slickly-packaged, on some levels extremely exciting and effective, but ultimately soulless piece of tripe.

Sorry, Mr. Sena. It's a really great thing you tried to do, started out doing, and will probably eventually do in another movie.

Worth renting? Maybe on a slow night.
Worth buying? Not in my opinion.
Suitable for kids? I don't think so.

Click here for complete details at IMDB.com.

Review copyright 2003 by Toby Baldwin

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