When the movie Sneakers came out in 1992, I had intended to watch it at the cinema, and for a specific reason. Yet I did not.
But when my daughter was flicking through the channels when we were on vacation at the end of June, there it was. We were introduced to the team led by Robert Redford as Martin Bishop. His company tests the security of banks and other businesses.
His colleagues include Crease (Sidney Poitier), the ex-CIA man with anger issues; Mother (Dan Aykroyd), the conspiracy theory nut who, two decades later, would probably spewing his nonsense on Twitter; Emory (David Strathairn), who’s blind but hears extraordinarily well; and Carl (River Phoenix), a brilliant hacker.
Martin is approached by two NSA guys to steal a newly invented computer decoder. He eventually susses out that his new clients aren’t who they say they are. He ends up asking his ex, Liz (Mary McDonnell) for help.
In many ways, this is a traditional caper movie in the Dirty Dozen/Mission Impossible/Ocean’s 11 traditions. But, in hindsight, it has the veneer of a sociological study about how the world changed – or didn’t – after the Soviet Union broke up.
Before its time?
The movie received 79% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. I do agree with most critics that River Phoenix was underused in the film.
The most interesting negative review is this one from 2001. “But this MacGuffin… it could shut down the Federal Reserve, Air Traffic Control, the National Power Grid. Oh, the power! The sweet, warm, delicious power! With this thing I could, dare I say it, rule the world!
“Gack. How 1992. How so early post-Cold War. Here I am worried about cloned supersheep herding humans for food, and Sneakers wants to get me upset over a few crashed airplanes.”
And that is precisely the type of terrorism that we’re worried about in the past decade or so. Because the technology has nearly caught up with the imagination of the script.
I enjoyed Sneakers and I found it surprisingly relevant. My daughter was occasionally confused because it was tricky figuring out who the good guys were. The final scene, featuring a well-known actor, was played for laughs. The film also stars Ben Kingsley as Cosmo, Martin’s former colleague; Timothy Busfield; and Stephen Tobolowsky.
But the reason I always wanted to see Sneakers is that the late Ernie Tetrault, a long-time anchor of WRGB-TV, Channel 6 in Schenectady, NY played the news anchor; he performed the role credibly.