Slate celebrates the 20th anniversary of Sneakers
September 10, 2012 11:47 AM   Subscribe

1992 saw the release of this caper movie. John Swansburg and Julia Turner discuss the film's enduring appeal; actor Stephen Tobolowsky fondly recalls his role as Werner Brandes; and Lowen Liu investigates how the movie's "Setec Astronomy" ended up on a black-ops uniform patch and attempts to re-create one of the most memorable scenes.

Two of the writers, Walter F. Parkes and Lawrence Lasker previously collaborated on WarGames.

Previously: Stephen Tobolowsky, How Prescient Was Hackers Anyway?, Mathematics in Movies, The Use of Computers in Movies and a collection of (often preposterous) graphical user interfaces culled from dozens and dozens of films.

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posted by Z303 (97 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
Cattle mutilations are up.
posted by The Bellman at 11:49 AM on September 10, 2012 [20 favorites]


I didn't realize the film HAD enduring appeal. Not snark. Just surprised that this movie is really well thought of. I remember being underwhelmed when I saw it.
posted by papercake at 11:51 AM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


FYI, the Blu-Ray of WarGames just came out. Mine should be here tomorrow. Now if they'd just release Buckaroo Banzai and Real Genius on BR...
posted by mrbill at 11:57 AM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wait, is that the one where the kid goes, "I know this, it's a UNIX system" ?
posted by k5.user at 11:57 AM on September 10, 2012


I remember wondering why people weren't thinking it was a classic. I loved it; I thought it was nearly a perfect film.

Of course, I was also 13.

But I recognized that pretty much everyone else in my family liked it, and that it had a ton of fun little bits in it that would be enjoyable later on: the Popeil Pocket Fisherman, the "my VOICE is my passPORT? VERIFY ME" line that I still pull out for no good reason, all that.

I should watch it again.
posted by Madamina at 11:57 AM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


That article about how the NSA actually has a sense of humour really is the quintessential Slate article, much ado about nothing, way, way too literal for its own good.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:58 AM on September 10, 2012


I went to see this with a bunch of other nerds when it came out, and yeah, everyone was underwhelmed. We didn't think it was horrible or anything, just a bit meh.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:59 AM on September 10, 2012


Wait, is that the one where the kid goes, "I know this, it's a UNIX system" ?

That's Jurassic Park. Where it was the very weird for its time 3d-esque silicon Graphics system which technically was unix, but not something you'd recognise as such immediately.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:00 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whoa, I didn't realize WarGames and Sneakers shared writers. I remember really liking Sneakers but I haven't seen it in years, probably not since shortly after it first came out. I've always thought that WarGames, Tron, and Sneakers are the quintessential "hacker" movies. (Even if the first two are super cheesy.) I'll need to watch Sneakers again and hope it holds up.
posted by kmz at 12:00 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's a question of how old you were when you first saw it. I was twelve, which seems to be the perfect age for it.
posted by Rangeboy at 12:00 PM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


It was a pretty big deal with the nerds of the time. Great casting, great performances, interesting infosec themes, '90s nerd themes (the conspiracy theorist messing with the ex-CIA agent) someone was actually using a Cray as furniture... and Whistler's rig was pretty damn sweet.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:01 PM on September 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I just watched this the other week! I think the oddest thing was that it was made in that brief period AFTER the Cold War but BEFORE scriptwriters had a good handle on The Next Big Bad Guys. (Briefly drugs, then terrorists.)
posted by DU at 12:02 PM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]



...Well, I liked it. I think I was intrigued by how many of the actors seemed to be playing a bit different from their usual "type", and they seemed to be enjoying themselves.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:06 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The other weird thing is that I remember really liking Sneakers the first time, then hating it the second time (a few years later) and then I liked it again a few weeks ago. Expectations management, maybe.
posted by DU at 12:09 PM on September 10, 2012


Wait, is that the one where the kid goes, "I know this, it's a UNIX system" ?

Flagged for "Shut up, you!"
posted by wenestvedt at 12:09 PM on September 10, 2012


I re-watched it a few weeks ago. I think it holds up pretty well, in terms of realism, story, and acting.
posted by jedicus at 12:09 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah, foiled again by the lack of a sarcasm tag .. I knew it's from Jurassic Park. The line was such a groaner among my tech friends, it makes for a great short hand for "wow, bad kluge of computer "
posted by k5.user at 12:09 PM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


In 1992 my officemate and I were often the ones to lock up and arm the security system at the end of the day. We would always spend a few minutes trying to evade the motion sensors by walking verrrrry slooooowly toward the exit.
posted by Knappster at 12:13 PM on September 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Ah, one of my absolute favorites of all time, this film. "Be a beacon."
posted by marginaliana at 12:14 PM on September 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


I could write a GUI for that movie using Visual Basic.

(one blowjob later...) I've hacked into NASA.

Now to download this virus I just wrote into the aliens' mainframe....
posted by IAmBroom at 12:16 PM on September 10, 2012


Also, that article about the NRO patch is actually about Trevor Paglen's incredible little book I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to be Destroyed by Me which examines the truly bizarre and often hilarious uniform patches from Pentagon Black Ops (yes, they have uniform patches). It's out of print, but if you can put your hands on a copy do so.

Trevor is a fantastic artist and a brilliant guy and his current project, The Last Pictures, will literally be launched into space this fall. It's worth reading about that, too. And if you have a free evening and happen to be in New York City on September 19, it's absolutely worth stopping by Bryant Park (behind the new York Public Library) to hear him talk with Werner Herzog (!!) about the project and art and space and deep time and whatever else enters their heads.
posted by The Bellman at 12:18 PM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Come on. The FBI would give him twins.
posted by mightygodking at 12:18 PM on September 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


"I want peace on earth and goodwill toward men." "We are the United States Government! We don't do that sort of thing."
posted by Cash4Lead at 12:20 PM on September 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sneakers had a huge effect on this young HS computer nerd at the time. I've even got a SA tattoo.

Not too many people get it but it's an instant bond with those that do. :)
posted by Setec Astronomy at 12:22 PM on September 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


Did someone at Slate buy stock in the company that owns the rights to Sneakers or something? I rented it when it originally came out on video, thought it was mildly entertaining, and pretty much never gave it a thought again until today. I feel like I'm in 2032 reading articles about Haywire.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:23 PM on September 10, 2012


That's Jurassic Park.

"Wow! An interactive CD-ROM!"
posted by Egg Shen at 12:24 PM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's Jurassic Park. Where it was the very weird for its time 3d-esque silicon Graphics system which technically was unix, but not something you'd recognise as such immediately.

Not only that, but the system booted perfectly from a previous power outage and somehow didn't spend 8 hours running FSCK.

My eyes rolled so hard....
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:24 PM on September 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


What Card Cheat said. I know that I saw this on video when it came out but don't remember much about it other than it seemed like slumming for Kingsley*, Redford and Poitier.

*that was long before we knew how far down Sir Ben could sink.
posted by octothorpe at 12:28 PM on September 10, 2012


I loved this movie when it came out and didn't see it again in until about a year ago. I enjoyed it the second time around, but I'm not sure what 13-year-old me thought was so amazing about it.
posted by brundlefly at 12:30 PM on September 10, 2012


Sneakers has everything it needs for me to put it in the 'pretty good movie' slot - bunch of great actors in reasonably well-written roles, a fun plot with a few genuinely surprising moves, a few great bits, a few good jokes. For me it was a solid, thoughtfully made, smarter-than-your-average-bear of a movie that didn't quite make it up to the next, transcendent, level. But I'll still watch it when it is on, and I wish there were more like it.

Everybody in this movie is good, and everybody is good in this movie.

Getting hung up about the specifics of the technology is inevitable, and interesting. On one hand it is like complaining that you couldn't see the person operating the brake pedal during a car chase. Who cares? It's about the chase, and the important thing is that the car stopped, or whatever. But on the other hand, sometimes, it's as if the filmmakers, having never seen a car in operation before, decided that the brakes are engaged by turning a giant crank on the hood or something, and it's terribly distracting to wonder why they aren't just stepping on the pedal, so to speak.
posted by dirtdirt at 12:32 PM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I always thought the most unrealistic aspect of this movie is how a struggling security firm could afford such a huge loft/office in San Francisco.
posted by thecjm at 12:34 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, I think we should all just keep making posts about David Strathairn's career. Who calls L.A. Confidential?
posted by brundlefly at 12:35 PM on September 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I enjoyed it the second time around, but I'm not sure what 13-year-old me thought was so amazing about it.

Thirteen year-old me was not entirely opposed to watching River Phoenix for an hour and a half.

Oh River Phoenix. Sigh.
posted by amy lecteur at 12:35 PM on September 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I leave message for you on service but you do not call.
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 12:36 PM on September 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


Fantastic film. Gorgeous cinematography. Pacing. Great characterization. Something for the entire family. Another one of those amazing films where San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area is almost like a character itself.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:37 PM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've been meaning to give this a re-watch lately -- it's always been one of my favorites for the snappy dialogue and unusual realism -- but I'm afraid the Suck Fairy might've gotten to it since the last watch.
posted by asperity at 12:40 PM on September 10, 2012


Movies like this are the basis of my barely suppressed desire to buy a transit van and stuff it full of oscilloscopes, monitors and other random electronic bits.
posted by madajb at 12:40 PM on September 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


amy lecteur: "Thirteen year-old me was not entirely opposed to watching River Phoenix for an hour and a half."

Ha! I remember being enamored with Dan Aykroyd's character, but presumably in a different way.
posted by brundlefly at 12:41 PM on September 10, 2012


my barely suppressed desire to buy a transit van

I am giving you formal permission to purchase that van, and also to outfit it to your liking, under the stipulation that you must also paint the side of it with "Caress of Krieger" in pink letters no less than three feet high.

We can negotiate further on the questions of whether the interior driving area should be faux-leopard of faux-zebra, and also as to whether there should be fuzzy dice, but "Caress of Krieger" is non-negotiable.
posted by aramaic at 12:44 PM on September 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Also, the thing about Sneakers is that it's (mostly) realistic.
Social engineering, outside access to unsecured systems via public infrastructure, simple spying to get a password.

Hell, even the MacGuffin works like real life (a magic key for one encryption system won't necessarily work on all of them)
posted by madajb at 12:44 PM on September 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


I adore this movie and have since I saw it in college. (Granted, I practically had to be dragged kicking and screaming into it by my roommate because I thought it was about espionage, and I have inherited from my mother a congenital inability to understand any movie about espionage. My roommate sold it to me because I was into anagrams--before anagram generators ruined anything special about that--and bless her, she was right.)

It holds up for me to this day. I married someone who had never seen it and who fell in love with it when I showed it to him. We showed it to my older stepdaughter not long ago, and she, who's always been into spying, puzzles and clever criminals, was also amused (although we did have to explain about the Cray in Cosmo's office--also amusing).

I enjoyed the Slate articles this morning, and was tickled by the fact that they existed.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:47 PM on September 10, 2012


Wait, is that the one where the kid goes, "I know this, it's a UNIX system" ?

As much as MeFi likes to poke fun at Hollywood sad attempts at representing technology, that interface is actually UNIX.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 12:52 PM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Don't forget to go real slow!"
posted by kirkaracha at 12:56 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am an attorney. There are lots and lots of movies and television shows that are either about the law or have some sort of courtroom scene. They seldom stray anywhere close to being realistic. I understand that the legal scenes need to be condensed and simplified so as not to slow down the movie or lose the viewer with legal jargon. I don't complain when evidence is admitted in some trial that would never be admitted in real life. I don't think I have ever had a conversation with other attorneys about the unrealistic portrayal of the practice of law in the entertainment world.

But computer/tech people? My goodness. They can't seem to let anything go.
posted by flarbuse at 12:59 PM on September 10, 2012 [14 favorites]


Count among this movie's fans. I remember seeing it with my Dad as a teen and I still enjoy it as a light suspense comedy, with some great performances (I had completely forgotten the math genius was played by Donal Logue, of all people.)

"Be a beacon."

"And give him head whenever he wants."
posted by cottoncandybeard at 1:01 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I loved this film, currently work in infosec - and most infosec kids seem to have a softer spot in their hearts for Sneakers than most other films, probably in large part due to what madajb said. It tried, and when it failed it did so gracefully and with a sense of humor and wit.

Also, the soundtrack was very original for film at the time - using Branford Marsalis' woodwinds and a great deal more percussion and thrumping piano than the "everything is cinematic strings all the time" blandness of the era.
posted by abulafa at 1:01 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


MartinWisse That's Jurassic Park. Where it was the very weird for its time 3d-esque Silicon Graphics system which technically was unix, but not something you'd recognise as such immediately.

You mean File System Navigator (Open source clone) on a Crimson
posted by Z303 at 1:06 PM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ah, foiled again by the lack of a sarcasm tag ..

Wouldn't have helped. My nineties inner nerd is way too earnest for sarcasm like that to register.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:07 PM on September 10, 2012


I hope it's not a huge derail, but I've never understood the hatred for that particular bit in Jurassic Park. Kid walks over to the box, sees some crazy-cakes overengineered 3-d file browser, and wonders what the heck she's going to have to try to figure out. But the first thing that the browser "flies" through? Watch the screen closely: /usr/bin. "Hey, I know what OSes use that filesystem layout. It may have all this 3d graphical cruft bolted on, but somewhere in here are a few shells and a set of utilities that I already know. Newman's crap is probably stashed somewhere over here in /home." The line and the reading always seemed just about right for that situation, to the point where I always thought someone must have hired a real geek to consult on the thing.
posted by CHoldredge at 1:09 PM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


"You get all the fun stuff!"
posted by Elementary Penguin at 1:11 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I have a new group of gifted children now. And I like that all of them are under the age of thirty."

BUUUUUUURN!

I'm torn between feeling like the movie should have been better than it was and enjoying it for what it is. A charming underachiever? No, that's dismissive. It's a fun movie with so much cast firepower it's hard to process.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 1:13 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am giving you formal permission to purchase that van, and also to outfit it to your liking, under the stipulation that you must also paint the side of it with "Caress of Krieger" in pink letters no less than three feet high.

So, without mentioning Sneakers, I texted my wife to tell her I got permission from the internet to build a spy van.

She texted back "Just don't let the blind guy drive it".

I knew I married that woman for a reason.
posted by madajb at 1:14 PM on September 10, 2012 [53 favorites]


Thirteen year-old me was not entirely opposed to watching River Phoenix for an hour and a half.

"... I just want a telephone number .... please."
posted by ead at 1:19 PM on September 10, 2012


The Captain Crunch reference was enough to endear this movie to some geeks I know.
I had a friend who insisted that the reference to Drano was also important somehow. Anybody know?
posted by aabbbiee at 1:24 PM on September 10, 2012


Similarly, at least one of the reasons I thought Sneakers was great fun was the impression I got that the writer knew damned well what a crypto key was, and what the implications of a breakthrough factorization algorithm would be, even if they chose to douse the idea in movie sparkles instead of explanations.

Similarly, the attitudes of the characters seemed just about right for the handful of crackerish types I've known. The whole world's one big, delightful puzzle, and bigger badder locks aren't meant to keep you out, they just mean the puzzle-maker's better than you. For now. Of course, it takes another dose of movie glitter to imagine any of those people as Phoenix or Poitier, but I doubt anyone minded.
posted by CHoldredge at 1:24 PM on September 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I love Sneakers. For me, the relationship between Ben Kingsley and Robert Redford still resonates with me. The consequences of one person going to prison while the other stayed free. Their final scene together with Robert going down the ladder. It's a good movie.
posted by Danila at 1:26 PM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


flarbuse: "But computer/tech people? My goodness. They can't seem to let anything go."

My theory? How often in your experience do trials go completely wrong for everyone involved (prosecution, defense, judge, the whole works) because of a trivial failure to understand how trials work? Programming and system administration are rife with examples of outcomes where nobody wins because somebody forgot how computers work on a pretty basic level (or at least failed to grasp simple consequences of how the computers work). So out of habit our hands are always on the trigger, ready to immediately and loudly tell someone "computers don't work that way". Because telling them now saves us all much pain and embarrassment later.
posted by idiopath at 1:27 PM on September 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Remind me to make you an honorary blind person.
posted by grubi at 1:41 PM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


But computer/tech people? My goodness. They can't seem to let anything go.

It's mostly because it's a simple fix in most cases. Computer/IT stuff is not that esoteric. And they'll work really hard to all the other details right, so it seems a little incongruent that they screw up these details.

But yeah, it's entertainment, so its best to just FIAMO.

Of course, Double Hacking will always make my soul die.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:48 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The idea of a universal code breaker, however far-fetched it may (or may not) be, is a mental exercise worth exploring. The film sets up the bad guy as the one who wants to release this technology onto the world, forever dooming us to a hell of non-privacy, where everything is knowable, by everybody, without recourse. The good guys rescue this technology and return it to the US government, where it will remain safe and not be used for evil purposes.

I know I left that sarcasm tag around here somewhere...
posted by Revvy at 1:48 PM on September 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


The good guys rescue this technology and return it to the US government, where it will remain safe and not be used for evil purposes.

(Spoilers!)

The technology isn't returned to the government. Bishop removes the main part of the guts of the box before giving it to the NSA, whereupon he tells them it doesn't work. The final scene (the transfer of funds from the RNC to Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and the UNCF) is not the NSA granting Whistler's wish, it's Marty up to his old tricks, mirroring the beginning of the movie.
posted by jedicus at 1:59 PM on September 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


I was about to write what Jedicus wrote. Suffice to say that I am fond of this movie.
posted by Fleebnork at 2:01 PM on September 10, 2012


The good guys rescue this technology and return it to the US government, where it will remain safe and not be used for evil purposes.


Not to be one of those nitpicky computer types, but they don't.
The crucial circuit board is displayed at the end, as the Republican Party gives donations to some of Robert Redford's favorite causes.
posted by madajb at 2:01 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought the tech in Sneakers (except for the sparkly "decryption chip") was pretty much spot on.
You make hacking look cinematic.

"Awesome! We're in!"

*Close up of blinking cursor*
posted by fullerine at 2:11 PM on September 10, 2012


Double Hacking

There's a link from there to the Swordfish "interview" clip. I wish I hadn't seen that because its screwed with my expectations of the tech interview I'm having this week.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 2:11 PM on September 10, 2012


some of Robert Redford's Martin Bishop's Martin Brice's Robert Redford's favorite causes.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 2:13 PM on September 10, 2012


In 1992 my officemate and I were often the ones to lock up and arm the security system at the end of the day. We would always spend a few minutes trying to evade the motion sensors by walking verrrrry slooooowly toward the exit.

Still a fun game twenty years later!

Uh, or so I have been told.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:19 PM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think I have ever had a conversation with other attorneys about the unrealistic portrayal of the practice of law in the entertainment world.

But computer/tech people? My goodness. They can't seem to let anything go.


Well, that's a natural consequence of the truth being important in one of the two professions.
posted by zippy at 2:32 PM on September 10, 2012 [25 favorites]


This is a great movie, for all the reasons mentioned, plus Branford Marsalis.
posted by Brocktoon at 2:33 PM on September 10, 2012


Easily in my top ten favorite movies.
posted by eamondaly at 3:18 PM on September 10, 2012


Hackers represents some sort of ultra-awesome alternate future that never actually happened. It was some sort of Eric Corley fever dream.

WarGames, Sneakers are the shit. I'm going to pirate both those off usenet right now so I can watch them tonight, read Hackers by Steven Levy and maybe even get the 64 out of the closet.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:39 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thank you for this! Sneakers is in my top 5 movies of all time, and was the first thing I bought on DVD. It's clever, funny, has a great soundtrack, and is one of the very, very few movies that doesn't treat technology as a magical problem-solving wizard.
posted by Sibrax at 3:57 PM on September 10, 2012


It's easily in my (heavily agonized over) top twenty. It's not a momentus film, it's not earthshattering. Not all movies have to be. It's a very well put together film that does what it needs to do, not without a wonderful sense of humor. It's stayed with me in insidious ways, to the extent that hearing certain words triggers lines in my head, and makes me want to say them outloud. The only problem is, almost no one I know has seen the movie, and my friends will look at me strangely.

Examples: I live overseas. I travel. I have to use my passport (verify me)

My friends went to Tahiti for their honeymoon (it's not in Europe)

My friend (I cannot hurt my friend. Please, hurt my friend)

And so on.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:20 PM on September 10, 2012


I saw this when I was a freshman in college. It was the midnight dollar show (god, how I miss *that* bargain), and some friends and I were slightly rowdy, slightly soused. Within ten minutes I was on board, and I loved every bit of it. The rowdiness disappeared. My group of friends liked it too, but a few of them were conservative types who didn't like the cheap joke at the end. There was some joke about the Republican Party's bank account being wiped out by Our Heroes...it was '92 and Clinton had just ascended...after 12 years of Republicans I guess that was a bit of catharsis for a lot of people. But yeah, a cheap joke and rather dated now.

Anyway, I really like the movie. I was looking forward to Phil Alden Robinson's next movie, whatever it was, but he seems to have fallen off the radar. Good writing, good pacing, excellent direction, really excellent casting--and acting. Though seeing River Phoenix just makes me sad. If he were still alive, he'd be the biggest star in Hollywood by now.
posted by zardoz at 4:51 PM on September 10, 2012


I was a teenage hacker. I also consulted (while still a teenage hacker) on a BBC youth drama about hacking, and had some involved discussions with the writer, director and actors. The programme, when it came out, wasn't that accurate - but it was wilfully inaccurate, with the inaccuracies introduced in the service of the drama. There was no carelessness or laziness; I'd told them what it was really like, and they said what it was like to make a decent piece of drama, and the drama - rightly- won.

Oddly, the thing I remember most clearly at this distance (thirty years? Near enough) is finding out that the computer screens were playing back a pre-filmed sequence that the actors were acting against, rather than being actually interactive. Made sense to me once I'd thought about it, but it was a surprise at the time.
posted by Devonian at 5:02 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


In 1992 my officemate and I were often the ones to lock up and arm the security system at the end of the day. We would always spend a few minutes trying to evade the motion sensors by walking verrrrry slooooowly toward the exit.

Still a fun game twenty years later!

Uh, or so I have been told.


I'm so glad I'm not the only one who, after seeing that film, spent countless hours playing the try-not-to-trigger-the-motion-light game. I always lost.

Anyway, I was 12 when this came out, and I saw it in the theaters, and as many have said that was just the right moment for me. I still enjoy the hell out of it and still quote many of the lines, but I don't think it was ever better than when I saw it that first time.
posted by kbanas at 5:07 PM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


personal favorite line - "He's one of those internet daters!"
posted by mannequito at 5:47 PM on September 10, 2012


Wow, really surprised at the lukewarm response from a lot of people.

I think movies about technology have gotten smarter in the last 20 years, but even now "hacking" is typically portrayed as typing magic incantations into a computer, generally with some GUI nonsense tacked on.

To paraphrase Krugman on Gingrich: It's a stupid person's idea of what smart looks like.

What made Sneakers great -- the perfect geek movie, I would have thought -- is that it made hacking look cool not by dressing it up, but by showing how it is actually cool. The most memorable scene has barely any technology in it, it's just people talking about the sound of car tires and Bay Area geography. More to the point, the scene isn't about making the characters look cool and smart by having them solve the problem, it clearly loves the process of solving the problem itself.
posted by bjrubble at 5:53 PM on September 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


COOTYS RAT SEMEN

Great great movie. Every character is enjoyable and well-down by an all-star cast.
posted by Existential Dread at 6:44 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I share the love for this movie. I feel like it's still pretty close to the high water mark for Movie Hacking. The tech is imperfect, but the aesthetic, the sense of a coherence and a meaningful structure to things, and the way it taps into the nerd mythos without turning it into insulting magical handwavy nonsense, are spot on.
posted by brennen at 7:23 PM on September 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Apparently taken off of netflix streaming sometime in the past 2 weeks. Because now that we're talking about it, we can't watch it without paying extra for it?
posted by garlic at 7:28 PM on September 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


What bjrubble said. Hackers and so many other movies about hacking or tech-sleuthing or espionage have used the "computers = magic" trope that, frankly, isn't just insulting but also isn't very cinematic. Hackers is an awful movie for anything other than camp nostalgia. Swordfish isn't even any good for that. How many countless movies have employed shit like "we need 90 seconds to trace the call?" or other nonsense?

Sneakers might have had some Magic Hack moments, but I don't remember them. What I remember was that all of the major set-pieces were about computers or technology being tools that these people had, portrayed realistically (audio editing software, most notably) and all of the tricks the team had up their sleeve were totally analogue.

You need to get a voiceprint? A lesser movie would have the team get a snippet of anything the target said and then extrapolate the rest of his voice from there, because hey, computers, right? (See: the Mission: Impossible series.) In Sneakers you instead have Mary McDonald on a date with Stephen Tobolowski, having to get him to say every word needed so they can cut it together later. Funny, tense, interesting.

You need to find out where someone's hideout is? A lesser movie would have you trace somebody's cell phone or what have you. In Sneakers you have a guy relive what he heard while locked in a trunk, piecing it together from there.

And instead of over-riding the security system, the masterstroke, walking very, very slowly and deliberately through it, while the villain is on his way up to the room in question. Cinematic, graspable. In Sneakers, anyone can imagine themselves doing the "hacking" because it all makes sense. It just takes massive cleverness.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:57 PM on September 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


(except for the sparkly "decryption chip")

Fun stuff, and a dumpster full of willing suspension of disbelief is being compacted here tonite.
posted by ovvl at 8:36 PM on September 10, 2012


> "Also, the thing about Sneakers is that it's (mostly) realistic."

... This is the movie where someone finds a location based on someone else's memories of what being locked in a car trunk sounded like, right?
posted by kyrademon at 6:00 AM on September 11, 2012


personal favorite line - "He's one of those internet daters!"

"Computer dater" -- they never said the word "internet".
posted by grubi at 6:09 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


> "Also, the thing about Sneakers is that it's (mostly) realistic."

... This is the movie where someone finds a location based on someone else's memories of what being locked in a car trunk sounded like, right?


You missed the part where the word "mostly" was typed?
posted by grubi at 6:11 AM on September 11, 2012


For years I'd think of honking geese whenever I was at a party.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:00 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


...Aaaand the clip.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:04 AM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


kyrademon: "> "Also, the thing about Sneakers is that it's (mostly) realistic."

... This is the movie where someone finds a location based on someone else's memories of what being locked in a car trunk sounded like, right?
"

If you watch the clip I just posted, you'll see it's actually fairly straightforward how they do this. And assuming that the lead character is trained in surveillance and the like, it's reasonable to assume he'd have a better-than-average memory and be likely to recall aspects of his environments that a layman might not.

In theory, with a good memory, a good map, and a good knowledge of the area pretty much anyone could do what they did. Point is, there was no cheating here.

Compare that with the mumbo jumbo in Mission Impossible. First time I saw it I'd barely used the Internet so all the things he was doing seemed so cool. Fast forward just a couple of years and it was laughable the Internet "research" he was doing, as if he were, first, typing "Find spies" into Google and then posting "Looking for spy, please contact me" into recipe forums or something. Pretty much anything "hacker" related now is ridiculous -- for example, in NCI when the hacker girl's computers start overheating when they try to hack into some government server. Or the famous "zoom in and enhance" crap in nearly every cop show (save one, maybe). In contrast, as far as I know none of the techniques in Sneakers is false. I mean, I think they don't even have the tried and true "invisible red lasers" shtick.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:27 AM on September 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


And it's not like he arrived in the office and said "Here are the things I remember; track down that site!" He told the story, and then the crew starting asking questions that led them to deduce the location.
posted by grubi at 7:34 AM on September 11, 2012


personal favorite line - "He's one of those internet daters!"
"Computer dater" -- they never said the word "internet".


Thank you--I was about ready to say the same. Their form of "computer dating" involved an actual company (that sent snail mail! which the sneakers found in Werner Brandes's trash) to do the matching. Amusing little retro bit.
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:07 AM on September 11, 2012


"Wait...a computer matched her with him? I don't think so..."

I always appreciated how such an understated anodyne comment almost foiled the heist.
posted by dry white toast at 9:46 AM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


ah yes, computer, not internet dater.

I really need to watch it again!
posted by mannequito at 11:49 AM on September 11, 2012


I really need to watch it again!

At the very least because it's such a good film.
posted by grubi at 11:54 AM on September 11, 2012


"I sat listening, but my predominant thought was 'Damn, Sidney Poitier is a handsome man.'"
posted by kirkaracha at 12:39 PM on September 11, 2012


I really need to watch it again!

I did last night and this evening is WarGames
posted by Z303 at 12:54 PM on September 11, 2012


I still find myself occasionally responding to a difficult/far-fetched request with "I'll see what I can do" in my best Voice of Vader.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:19 PM on September 12, 2012


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