Hacking into the action

Swordfish

Directed by Dominic Sena

(John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle)

Rated: R

Since the late ’80s, the action genre has taken a turn for the worst. No longer are action sequences used within intricate stories, rich in characters and situational drama. Instead, in big action pictures like Broken Arrow and Gone In 60 Seconds, action becomes the backbone of the film. Rather than propelling the story, the narrative exists only between explosions or car chases.

The aforementioned Gone In 60 Seconds is an accredited Dominic Sena action genre disaster. Swordfish, while not a great movie, is Sena’s small step back towards the great action movies of the past.

The first of these small steps is a plot. Swordfish begins with an intriguing story. Gabriel Shear (John Travolta) is a dangerous, eccentric and calculating spy. He acts as a patriot of his country, attempting to fight terrorists threatening America. To finance his covert operations, Shear recruits Stanley Jobson (Hugh Jackman), one of the world’s best hackers. Jobson’s mission is to break into a bank account, securing Shear a small fortune. Jobson is an unwilling accomplice, accepting the job to support a legal battle for custody of his daughter. His character acts as the unbiased audience’s guide into this dark world.

This story is engaging, not only for the action it allows but for the interesting characters it creates. Jobson is the innocent man enduring an extreme journey, unsure what he gets himself into. Shear is a brilliant madman, spouting conspiracy theories, motivated and unrelenting. Swordfish‘s success develops out of Sena not allowing these characters or their interaction to get lost in the car chases or gunfights. Instead, there is a fair balance of drama, suspense and action. At one point, Sena even questions the confines of a genre, opening with Travolta giving a monologue on how audiences expect movies to end.

While there are still emotional subplots that drip with sappiness and a tendency for excess in Sena’s style, Swordfish entertains with characters and a story that audiences will want to explore. Although not completely flawless, it is the first good Saturday-night popcorn movie in a long while that the most discriminating viewer will find reasonably entertaining.