Now those of you who have seen Travelling Salesman (2012) will recognize that the huge mathematical breakthrough made in Sneakers by the genius mathematician Dr. Janek is in fact a solution to the classic P=NP problem.
Not that it is ever called that. Or that we are ever given more than the barest description of what he has discovered, other than that it would instantly break through any attempts at electronic cryptography.
But we do learn that it can be handled neatly within a single black box.
And naturally, this is the McGuffin for the entire film.
After watching Open Windows (2014) not too long ago, I felt the urge to go out and watch more Hacker movies. As I noted in that review, Hacker Movies are one of those subgenres which collide with science fiction although they do not always fit neatly into it. They often involve either exaggerated claims for the abilities of the hackers, or some sort of futuristic technology.
While Sneakers has a pretty interesting piece of technology at its heart, one that does fit within a broad definition of science fiction, the film largely has a classic McGuffin plot, with the device fought over by various factions, but remaining unused for most of the film.
Which is actually rather strange when you think of it, as it is a hacking device in a hacking movie.
However, Sneakers also fits into another familiar subgenre, one which probably does not have an official name even though dozens of such films were made in the Seventies and Eighties. I refer to the big, star-filled ensemble cast movie.
It’s really quite impressive when you look at the cast, as we have Robert Redford in the lead as Bishop, a Seventies radical hacktivist turned security expert, whose team includes; the former CIA operative Sidney Poitier; the hardware expert “Mother” (Dan Ackroyd); a blind programming genius (with a very cool braile…monitor, for want of a better word); and River Phoenix as the young kid.
We also get Sir Ben Kingsley as Robert’s old pal turned villain (or perhaps “supervillain” would be closer) and a small but very welcome appearance by James Earl Jones (and it may be a bit of a wink and a nod to the audience that he first appears as a very familiar voice on the other end of the phone line).
The plot? Well, it is a bit familiar: the FBI puts pressure on Bishop to steal the box or they will reveal his outstanding criminal warrants. They steal it, but realize that it is far more dangerous than they believed, and then discover that they aren’t actually working for the Feds.
And the next thing you know, the police are looking for Bishop for murder, and the team has to find some way to steal the box back.
As I said, very familiar.
But, let’s face it, familiar is fine, particularly when you are watching a big budget thriller with a great cast. A lot of care and good writing went into the film, and, while it isn’t one of the classic films of the era, it is fun and manages a few nice surprises along the way. Just seeing Redford, Poitier, Kingsley, Ackroyd and James Earl Jones at work together is worth the price of admission.
And we even get to see Stephen (“Ned, Ned Ryerson?”) Tobolowsky in a small part.
Mind you, there is one classically stupid villain moment which will leave you shaking your head. After all, if Ben had just told Bishop “so long and thanks” the movie might have ended right there and he’d have kept the box.
Villains. They just don’t think their evil plots through, do they?
However, that is a minor glitch at worst, and it doesn’t change the fact that Sneakers is definitely worth a look, even if it isn’t as good as, say, The Taking of Pelham 123.
Although it still isn’t clear whether you can count it as science fiction or not…
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