Swordfish Review

Alex Larman has reviewed the theatrical release of Swordfish starring John Travolta, Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry’s assets.

The R-rated, balls to the floor, every bullet counts action film has become something of an endangered species recently, with such neutered specimens as Tomb Raider hardly qualifying as even enjoyable exercises in pyrotechnic mayhem, let alone actually achieving any success as films. Therefore, all hail to Swordfish, a film that is a welcome throwback to a time when people swore more than once in a 2-hour film and where the body count began to resemble a telephone number. The pleasant surprise here is the unexpectedly witty script and interesting twists and turns.

After a stunning opening which shows a hostage siege go horribly wrong, the film flashes back to down on his luck former hacker Stanley Jobson (Jackman) being approached by a mysterious woman named Ginger Knowles (Berry, saddled with an unfortunate character name that may well be a reference to the corpulent founder of Aint-it-cool news, Harry Knowles). Ginger offers him $100,000 to meet her employer, a mysterious man named Gabriel (Travolta). Despite his better instincts, Jobson accepts, needing the money to fight a custody battle to rescue his daughter from his porn star ex-wife. Unfortunately, the FBI, led by Agent Roberts, have other plans, and what Gabriel actually wants is rather unclear…

From the director of the lacklustre Gone in 60 Seconds, you really wouldn’t expect much, but this is a pleasant surprise. Jackman is fine as a rather wittier and more muscular computer geek than you’d expect, while Berry does a nice (and, yes, briefly topless) turn as the possibly duplicitious Ginger. However, it’s Travolta who steals the show. Freed from such absurd rubbish as Battlefield Earth, he reverts to the sort of villainy that he first showed so entertainingly in Broken Arrow and Face/Off, and is more fun than in his last half dozen films combined.

It’s stretching the point somewhat to describe this as a great film, or even a particularly good one. The script is witty and surprisingly intelligent, but it also has some quite horrific logical flaws in it, with the climatic twist especially implausible. However, you’re not paying for the plot, you’re paying for the action scenes, and they are fairly incredible. Obviously influenced heavily by The Matrix (both films were produced by high-concept sage Joel Silver), there are moments here which really do put spectacle back into the action film, with a midway car chase more exciting than the entirety of Gone in 60 Seconds, and a deliriously overblown finale that, for once, won’t leave you feeling somehow short changed by the film.

It’d be absurd to claim any great artistic achievement for the film, but it’s one of the few blockbusters released recently that doesn’t let itself or the audience down in any way. Relax, leave your brain at the door, enjoy the film, and be thankful that the seemingly unstoppable tide of sanitised Hollywood mediocrity has been stemmed just long enough for something as fun as this to sound what might, sadly, be something of a last hurrah for ‘traditional’ action films.

Alexander Larman

Updated: Feb 27, 1999

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