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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Swordfish
Warner Bros. // R // October 30, 2001
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted October 29, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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As many know, John Travolta's career has taken another downward slump after both "Pulp Fiction" and "Broken Arrow", among other titles, made it seem as if he had made a complete comeback. "Swordfish" is not going to help matters a great deal, but it's a very slightly a more entertaining feature than either of his pictures or director Dominic Sena's last film ("Gone In 60 Seconds"), for that matter. Still, it's not what I would call a good "Summer" picture, or just a "good film", even.

Travolta stars as Gabriel Shear, a cyber-criminal with a questionable past who is attempting to engineer a 9.5 billion dollar heist from a secret government account. He's got an assistant in Ginger (Halle Berry), but he needs a hacker to get him into the system and create a "worm" to syphon off the cash into his accounts. That's where Stanley Jobson (Hugh Jackman) comes in. The only problem is that Stan was busted for hacking years ago and although he's already served his time in prison, he's not allowed to go near a computer - or his daughter, who is with her mother - and her mother is ready to fight a custody battle that Stanley can't afford.

After Gabriel attempts to test Stan by making him hack into the department of defense at gunpoint within 60 seconds, he makes him a greater offer - 10 million dollars if he can complete the heist. Certainly enough to hire a lawyer to get his daughter back and live in a place other than the trailer he's currently in. But, as with any film of this type, nothing is as easy at it seems. Stanley has an old acquaintence following him in FBI agent Roberts (Don Cheadle recycling his "Traffic" role).

Although I've attempted to start, there's really no point in going too far into the plot of "Swordfish", which, like many Summer movies, is happier simply making every shot into some sort of visual moment than telling much of a story. It's not as if it just forgot about plot, it really doesn't seem like it cares much about it in the first place. I can certainly accept that in a Summer movie, but "Swordfish" in movie terms goes like this: the visuals are the popcorn and the plot is the topping. And I think the butter went stale a couple of days prior. There's so much double/triple agent stuff going on that the film itself sometimes seems to be confused about just who's who. The explosions and action sequences mask the fact that there's really not a whole lot going on beyond the bare minimum of the genre. And, because hey why not, Berry goes topless (and reportedly earned quite a pretty penny to bare all).

Maybe some of this would have been more entertaining if the performances were taken to another level. Travolta's best bad-guy performance still as (and as far as I'm concerned always will be) in "Broken Arrow". As Vic Deakins, Travolta played a terrific bad guy - kind enough to offer another character a Coke one minute, then going about blowing up the entire Southwest United States the next. He'd completely lost it - an energetic, funny power-trip that was scary and amusing at the same time. Here, his portrayal of Shear is just another stone-cold bad guy that we've seen before. Jackman is fine, but unexceptional as Stanley. There's one great scene in the film where he meets his daughter again and tells her that he's found a way to get her back. It's the one human, emotional scene in the picture and it's wonderfully acted between the two performers.

And it's a quick moment. It's odd, really. I sit and watch a film like "Swordfish", with a bus flying through the air attached to a helicopter, swinging around and barely keeping from crashing into buildings...and I really remain indifferent. I had a similar reaction to Sena's "Gone In 60 Seconds". I know I should be thrilled at all of this chaos, but I really don't find myself caring in the least. Even Michael Bay (well, not counting "Pearl Harbor") has done a better job combining visuals with at least some tiny bit of coherent plot and characters that you at least slightly care enough about to be concerned with what happens to them.

There's a speech by Travolta early on in the film that talks about how bad the films that Hollywood makes are. By the end, I'd agreed with him, since I'd just sat through another mediocre offering. There is the excuse that it's just another "Summer" movie, but there's certainly been better Summer fare in recent years.


VIDEO: Aside from one minor flaw, "Swordfish" is truly one of the best visual presentations that I've seen from Warner Brothers. Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the picture often looks simply stunning. Sharpness and detail are nothing short of remarkable, as the picture takes on a completely "film-like" look with strong depth to the image.

The picture quality remains ever so close to perfection, but it doesn't quite make it. Print flaws are non-existent; the picture remains crystal clear and free of even the slightest speck or mark. Pixelation is absent, but there is some minor and completely unncessary edge enhancement at a few points. Certainly nothing much, but it's too bad that the picture couldn't be a few steps closer towards flawless.

Colors are slick and stylish, as the movie plays heavily with deep greens and golden hues. Black level remains strong throughout and overall, aside from the previously mentioned concern, "Swordfish" looked near-perfect.

The layer change is nicely placed during a fade-out at 45:45.

SOUND: "Swordfish" isn't quite the agressive 5.1 soundtrack that many would expect. It's more of a scene-specific surround-heavy film than a film that consistently puts the rear speakers to work. The stunning action sequence that opens the picture provides impressive surround use, as does the car chase in the middle and the action in the end. It's points in-between that "Swordfish" tends to calm down considerably, with the score being the one element that opens up the more subtler moments. Audio quality remained very good throughout, as the score seemed rich and occasionally powerful. Dialogue occasionally seemed slightly unnatural, but was always easily heard and clear. While not exactly the agressive soundtrack that many will likely expect, there are a few moments of intense activity.

MENUS:: Basic, static main menu with the score playing behind it. Quite a bit more could be done with these.


Commentary: This is a commentary from director Dominic Sena, who provides both narration and information about the film. In sort of a repetition of form, Sena first discusses where we are at this point in the movie, then starts to chat more about the production, then occasionally catches us up to where we are in the picture at this point before discussing the tech details once more. When Sena goes into further detail about the production, the commentary turns more interesting, as he is able to engagingly give us lots of tidbits about how certain scenes were shot and other production details like how casting, production design and other aspects. There's only a few minor pauses of silence and those pauses usually are when Sena lets the scene he's talking about play.

Alternate Endings: 2 alternate endings are provided with commentary from director Dominic Sena. These sequences definitely don't work as well, but are interesting to view.

The Effects: This is certainly the better of the two documentaries, allowing the viewer to watch step-by-step the major action sequence at the end of the film and what role visual effects played in the proceedings.

Making Of: This is the more traditional of the two documentaries, offering cast and crew interviews that give basic story details and discussion of what it was like to work on the movie. Some fun behind-the-scenes footage is shown, but I didn't really find a great deal of information here.

Also: Trailer and cast/crew bios. DVD-ROM material including additional materials and web-links is provided - unfortunately, it seems as if you've got to figure out the "passwords" to get in. Sorry, but I really hate this kind of feature, where the viewer has to spend valuable time working to get into material that's likely promotional in nature anyways.

Final Thoughts: My recommendation of "Swordfish"'s DVD edition is another instance of many similar recommendations I've given before - if you liked the film, by all means - get the DVD, as it offers great audio/video and some solid supplements. Those who haven't that are interested should probably look at it as a rental first.

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