A The charming Robert Redford stars in the jewel of 1992 Sneakers, a high-tech adventure (for the time) set in a world after the Cold War and before the Internet, when virtual reality was only one in its infancy and fears surrounding cyberwarfare were mounting.
Martin Bishop (Redford) leads a group of Ocean’s Eleven-style cyber experts who strive to expose the security dangers facing banks and businesses. After the team is approached by two supposed NSA officers threatening to reveal Bishop’s shady past, the group find themselves blackmailed into using his skills to uncover and retrieve an elusive black box.
Their investigation leads them to mathematician Dr Gunter Janek (Donal Logue), who has apparently been paid by the Russians and under the guise of a research project named Setec Astronomy (a rather clever anagram for “too many secrets”) and has developed a mathematical code that will make encrypted files universally obsolete. Under surveillance, Bishop and his colleagues learn that Janek hid this code on a computer chip inside the black box. After recovering the device, Bishop and his crew’s curiosity takes hold, so they plug the chip into their desktops during their post-mission celebrations. The device they were hired to retrieve for is capable of cracking access codes to all of the world’s major computer systems – the ultimate decryptor.
The film is packed with Oscar winners and nominees. Alongside Redford in his hacktivist team is Sidney Poitier as former CIA officer Donald Crease; Dan Aykroyd as wide-eyed conspiracy theorist Darren “Mother” Roskow; and David Strathairn as Irwin “Whistler” Emery, a blind genius with a keen sense of hearing who is invaluable to the group. River Phoenix rounds out the likable squad as reserved and socially awkward tech wizard Carl Arbogast – a role that was sort of a departure for the then-21-year-old idol. Bishop’s ex-girlfriend, Liz Ogilvy (Mary McDonnell) is thankfully not sidelined as another love interest, but included as a participant in the gang’s mission.
Sneakers is a hybrid of genres – half thriller, half cacabre, half cop buddy. It’s more cerebral than action-oriented, and Bishop and his gang rely on their wits rather than smart gadgets to achieve their goals. Director Phil Alden Robinson inserts moments of levity into the serpentine plot – signal the team to an Aretha Franklin Fools Chain Celebration Dance, where Redford slips and falls as he tries to slip to through a bank counter during a burglary.
A key addition to Sneakers’ creative arsenal is heard, not seen. James Horner (later known for his orchestral compositions on blockbusters such as Titanic and Avatar) composed the film’s minimalist score, bringing tension and propulsion to the hack scenes.
Sneakers are all about secrets – who has them, who wants them, who is willing to share them, and how far someone can go to reveal them. In a warning speech given by Bishop’s ideological opponent Cosmo (Ben Kingsley) at the film’s climax, he states that the world is not ruled by guns, energy or power. silver : . âWhat we see, hear, how we work, what we think – it’s all about the data.
Sneakers is set in a world before Google, Facebook, and smartphones, and despite being nearly 30 years old, his concerns about privacy and moral ambiguity around accessing personal and corporate information are frightening.