Robert Redford is in some great espionage flicks, including “Three Days of the Condor” with Faye Dunaway (click here to read my review), which is one of the best spy movies ever made, and “Spy Game” with Brad Pitt. Another good one is from 1992 and it’s called “Sneakers,” which has a much more interesting supporting cast than the other two and remains just as complex a story. “Sneakers” starts out a bit more lighthearted than “Three Days of the Condor” and “Spy Game” but soon catches up to the dangerous dynamic of playing with fire. However, overall, “Sneakers” is much more fun to watch. Enjoy.
(1992; 126 minutes; rated PG-13; directed by Phil Alden Robinson and starring Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier and Dan Aykroyd)
JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW …
(NOTE: I expanded this review by reorganizing it, giving additional opinion, adding trivia and updating links on Dec. 7, 2017.)
Robert Redford has impeccable credentials on screen from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” to “The Sting” to “The Electric Horseman” (click here for my review) and more. As an actor he is thorough, professional and has that persona that would make him both the intellect and the life of any party. So, it’s no surprise that he and his castmates are all on their A-game with “Sneakers.”
In “Sneakers” he leads a ragtag bunch of “security” experts from a former CIA agent (Sidney Poitier) to a conspiracy obsessed wacko (Dan Aykroyd) to a blind computer genius (David Strathairn) to a young computer nerd (River Phoenix in one of his last roles before his death in 1993). They scratch out a living by testing security systems (what they call “sneaks”) and get hauled into a complex plot involving a plot to steal a code machine.
From the start of the film, you get the feeling that this will be mostly lighthearted fun with an interesting group doing crazy and fun “sneaks.” But not all is what is appears for staying lighthearted or who is whom and working for what. “Sneakers” then turns dramatically dark before clearing everything up at the end as it returns to a lighthearted moment.
Redford plays “Martin Bishop,” who as a college student (real name “Martin Brice”) along with a friend used computers to break into sensitive networks and had to go underground to escape prosecution. His friend wasn’t so lucky (more about this later in a SPOILER ALERT). Fast forward and Redford has now gone semi-respectable in the security business, but someone knows his secret and uses it as leverage to hire him and his gang to steal a code-breaking device.
I will only describe briefly that the film has twists and turns from its plot to low-key action and winds its way around to a satisfactory ending with a nice small turn by James Earl Jones, who is familiar not only by his distinctive voice but from films such as “The Hunt for Red October” (click here for my review), “Conan the Barbarian,” “The Lion King” and of course voicing in the “Star Wars” franchise. In a final analysis, the plot is intelligent and very intricate and you’ll need to stay focused to enjoy all the details.
Now, let me take a look at the principal cast:
- Oscar winner and four-time nominee (not for this one) Redford is his usual, smooth, confident self in this one. He makes acting look so easy that you’d hope every other actor would be able to do the same. They can’t. Redford knows how use his voice, eyes and physical presence to convey everything. It’s too bad he hasn’t won an Oscar for acting, though he was nominated for “The Sting.” Redford won as director for “Ordinary People” (a deficient, emotional crapfest in my book) and was nominated for one I like (“Quiz Show”). He was also presented an honorary Oscar for being an inspiration to actors and directors. I thought he was Oscar-worthy in “All the President’s Men” (click here for my review) and even in second-tier films such as “The Hot Rock” (click here for my review).
- Oscar nominee (not for this one) Aykroyd plays “Darren ‘Mother’ Roskow,” a burglar loves to tease Poitier about supposed government conspiracies. Aykroyd does an outstanding job here. He’s disheveled and irritating and does more with this role than in bigger ones such as “Doctor Detroit” or “Dragnet,” but it’s not up to his Oscar-nominated role in “Driving Miss Daisy” or classics such as “Trading Places” (click here for my review), “Ghostbusters” or even smaller films such as “Grosse Point Blank” (click here for my review) and we’ll continue to forget the very adult “Exit to Eden.”
- Oscar winner (not for this one) Poitier plays “Donald Crease,” the former CIA man who won’t say why he was fired. Poitier is the even-handed voice of reason in a group of misfits and is the foundation of their strength. When Poitier talks, his friends don’t always listen. However, you will since he does such a good job here. Poitier has been in critically acclaimed films such as “In the Heat of the Night,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “The Bedford Incident” (click here to read my review) as well as his first film with Phoenix in “Little Nikita” four years earlier. He won his Oscar for “Lilies of the Field” (and for that, he was the first African-American actor to win a “Best Actor” Oscar in 1964). Poitier was nominated for “The Defiant Ones” with Tony Curtis and was given an honorary Oscar for representing the entertainment industry with dignity an intelligence in his on-screen roles.
- Oscar nominee (not for this one) Strathairn, who was in “A. Confidential” (click here for my review) and TV’s “The Sopranos,” is solid as the blind phone hacker “Irwin ‘Whistler’ Emory.” He deals out his emotions and lines with aplomb and, while not as smooth as Redford, is just as convincing as a hacker’s hacker. He was nominated for “Good Night, and Good Luck” and I also liked him in two baseball movies – “Eight Men Out” and “A League of Their Own.”
- Oscar and Golden Globe nominee (not for this one) Phoenix, who was also in “Stand By Me” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” is energetic as the young computer hacker “Carl Arbogast” but doesn’t get a chance to display his full talent. I’m sure I’ve missed by he’s a bit twitchy, but I’m not sure that how he played the character was the best way, given his talent. Phoenix, who was nominated for “Running on Empty” was also in “My Own Private Idaho” and “Stand By Me.” Phoenix died at 23 in 1993 of a drug-induced heart attack.
- Two-time Oscar nominee Mary McDonnell plays “Liz,” Redford’s love interest here. McDonnell isn’t part of Redford’s team, but is forced by circumstance to join. She’s the adult of the group and tries to deflect Redford’s attempts to rekindle an obvious romance. McDonnell, who was in “Independence Day,” “Dances With Wolves” (one of her nominations) and the college basketball film “Blue Chips” (click here for my review), blends just the right amount of off-handedness and aloofness here. She conveys her character well and its one she’s played before and most likely will in the future. Her other nomination was for “Passion Fish.”
The best two supporting actors are Timothy Busfield and Eddie Jones. The pair play “Dick Gordon” and “Buddy Wallace” respectively and play the good-cop, bad-cop routine to perfection. But are they cops? Or agents? Or … what?
- Primetime Emmy winner Busfield, who was in TV’s “Thirtysomething” as well as “Revenge of the Nerds” (click here for my review) and “Little Big League,” is the affable, con man of the duo. He’s breezy and light and just a bit sinister. It’s not easy for an actor to skate the fine line between likeable and deadly, but Busfield manages to do it well here. I also liked his work in “First Kid” with Sinbad (click here for my review). Busfield won his Emmy for the TV series “Thirtysomething” and also was nominated three times for it, too.
- While Busfield pulls off fun but sinister, Jones is great as being just plain menacing as the enforcing arm of the duo. It was good casting here – Jones blends both a laconic side that can change instantly to a more aggressive mode. He has most of his resume with TV work and has also been in “Cadillac Man” and “Seabiscuit.”
Going further down the cast list, you’ll find Donal Logue, who was in “Blade,” “The Patriot” and “The Tao of Steve,” as “Dr. Gunter Janek,” the long-haired mathematician at the center of the plot. He only has a few moments on screen and while he doesn’t disappoint, there’s not much for him to work with.
A little better because she has something to work with, is Lee Garlington as “Dr. Elena Rhyzkov.” She’s the sexed-up lover of Logue and has one great scene with Redford, who’s getting coaching through an earpiece. She did a great job in those few moments. Garlington has been in the ultra-creepy “One Hour Photo” with Robin Williams as well as the puerile “American Pie 2” and has notched a very prolific 219 acting credits since her first in 1981.
Here comes the SPOILER ALERT!
Actually, the best supporting performance here is by Ben Kingsley, who plays the grown-up version of Redford’s college roommate “Cosmo.” Kingsley didn’t die in prison and now is the criminal computer mastermind behind organized crime. He’s actually the one behind Busfield and Jones and he’s the one who wants the cryptography device so he can expand his nefarious empire.
Kingsley plays his part to perfection with just the right touch of psychosis and intelligence. Of course he did much better in “Gandhi” (remember, he won the Oscar for Best Actor for this one) and “Schindler’s List.” Actually, I liked him best in “You Kill Me” (click here for my review) and he did good in a very small part in “Dave” (click here for my review).
SPOILER ALERT over!
All in all, you should really enjoy every minute of “Sneakers,” especially the end where the characters get to pick a prize for themselves (no, I’m not kidding).
“Sneakers” was the 30th ranked film at U.S. theaters in 1992 with a respectable $51.2 million in ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo. It was made on a budget of $35 million and took in $105 million worldwide, according to Wiki. “Sneakers” was just a head of “The Mighty Ducks” and “Malcolm X” and far behind the No. 1 film of the year: “Aladdin” at $217.3 million. The other two films from 1992 that I’ve reviewed for this blog are “The Distinguished Gentleman” (great Eddie Murphy) – click here for my review – and “Under Siege” (good action with Segal) – click here for my review.
Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):
- Bohdi Elfman, husband of Jenna Elfman of TV’s “Dharma & Greg,” has a small role as a bank guard. He has also been in “Collateral” and “Enemy of the State.”
- Directly from IMDb.com: “Robert Redford‘s jacket is the same one he wears in The Natural (1984).”
- Amy Benedict, who plays NSA agent “Mary” who becomes Phoenix’s love interest the instant he sees her, was in “Acts of Mercy” and a string of TV roles back to 1963 with the soap opera “General Hospital.”
- Directly from IMDb.com: “The warehouse set, in which the characters are having a party after getting the device, is modeled on the set of the warehouse party in The Conversation (1974).”
- When Redford’s and Kingsley’s characters, played by younger actors, are shown at the beginning of the film, the building they are in is the façade of the Old Clock Tower from “Back to the Future.”
- IMDb.com does a major screw-up in a trivia “fact” in its entry for “Sneakers.” It has a piece of trivia saying that “Martin” and “Bishop” (Redford’s name here) were the last two names in a list of victims in “Three Days of the Condor.” Nope. The last two names there were “Bishop” and “Mitchell.”
- Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “When breaking into Cosmo’s office, Martin (Robert Redford) uses a Ronco “Pocket Fisherman” to lower a needed high tech device.”
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