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Combine computer espionage, a heaping handful of shoot ’em up violence, sprinkle a pinch of surprise ending, simmer for two hours in a sauce of situational ethics and you’ve got the action thriller Swordfish.
Once the hottest hacker to roam the Information Superhighway, a man who sees code in his head before it’s on the screen, ex-con Stanley Jobson finds himself living anything but the good life. He’s divorced, separated from his daughter by a restraining order and relegated to a rusting trailer park after sabotaging a FBI surveillance program named Carnivore (a conscientious attempt to thwart the Bureau’s overzealous, Big Brother peeping). Into his life steps Ginger, a mysterious seductress who lures Stanley into the high-stakes world of playboy spy Gabriel Shear. Exercising his twisted sense of patriotism, Gabriel’s mission in life is to terrorize terrorists for fun. Stanley’s job is simple: use his computer prowess to help Gabriel steal over $9 billion from clandestine DEA accounts so he can fund his crusade. Drawn by the challenge and a multi-million dollar payday (but mostly by the promise of being united with his daughter), he agrees. Stanley’s quickly thrust into a realm where murder, lies and perverse sexuality run rampant. Distressed by Gabriel’s willingness to kill innocent hostages, torture the disloyal and kidnap children to achieve his ends, Stanley decides that a doublecross is in order to even the score.
positive elements: Stanley genuinely loves his daughter and is willing to go to great lengths to be reunited and insure that she grows up in a healthy environment (his ex-wife is married to a pornography producer). He steps in to help when his ex-wife drinks herself into an alcoholic stupor. During an attempted escape from Gabriel’s mercenary thugs, he places his daughter’s safety above his own. Director Dominic Sena subtly indicts the pornography industry with lingering shots of Stanley’s haggard ex-wife—whose producer/husband included her in his "films"—sprawled unconscious next to a galaxy of gin, bourbon and tequila bottles. Stanley responds with revulsion to the taking of life. Gabriel inadvertently condemns antisocial, irresponsible entertainment when he says, "What the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes."
spiritual content: The only references to anything transcendent come in the form of profanity (more than five uses of the Lord’s name in vain, one egregiously linked with the f-word).
sexual content: While one can applaud Sena’s condemnation of the porn trade, he failed to tone down the eroticism of his own film. Swordfish radiates steamy sexuality. From her first appearance, Ginger struts about in skintight, sensuous outfits, inviting Stanley to ogle by bending over or thrusting her breasts in his face. Stanley’s ex-wife threatens to hire prisoners to rape him if he approaches his daughter. Gabriel surrounds himself with young, attractive women who obey his every beck and call, one of whom performs oral sex on Stanley while he hacks into the Department of Defense as a test of his concentration (during the act Gabriel comments, "Oh, she’s good, isn’t she?"). Women strip down to their underwear before swimming. Ginger grabs Stanley’s crotch and comments about erections. In one extended scene, she’s shown in her underwear. In another she appears topless as the camera lingers on full breast nudity (for which Ms. Berry reportedly received a sizeable bonus). Gabriel makes a crass reference to masturbation. Surveillance cops discuss the artistic merits of porn, including the "performances" of Stanley’s ex-wife.
violent content: Swordfish opens with Gabriel commenting on the relationship between cinema and media and how to make the greatest impact. He concludes that the most effective means would be for hostage takers to publicly slaughter their captives. Next the audience is confronted with Gabriel taking his own advice. During a revolving slow-motion shot a hostage is blown to pieces by 20 pounds of C-4 explosive. The blast kills the captive and scores of police officers while destroying most of a city block. And due to the plot’s reliance on flashback, this horrifying scene makes an encore appearance. A second hostage dies when he and another man fall from a helicopter and explode. An arrested hacker gets shot in the forehead; his lawyer dies in similar fashion. Stanley discovers a corpse in Gabriel’s wine cellar and later stumbles upon the bodies of his ex-wife and her new husband. Trucks explode and hurtle into buildings as Gabriel guns down pursuing assailants during an extended car chase. He also hangs a woman with a winch as incentive for Stanley to code faster, then lets her down and promptly shoots her in the chest. A senator is shot dead while fishing and his assistant perishes in a car bomb explosion. Stanley destroys a helicopter with a rocket launcher then must identify a charred corpse pulled from the wreckage. Others fall to their deaths.
The carnage in Swordfish is particularly disturbing because of the stylish way in which it’s shot. Slow-motion replays. Extreme close-ups. Dizzying camera angles. All accompanied by a throbbing techno soundtrack. Similar to The Matrix, Face/Off and Broken Arrow, the operatic mayhem in Swordfish could convince teens that violence can be artistic or even beautiful if it’s well produced.
crude or profane language: Like most R-rated films, Swordfish relies on profanity to flesh out large portions of its script (nearly 70 uses in all). The f-word appears the most often, turning up about 30 times. Sexual dialogue is rampant. Several characters make slang references to oral sex.
drug and alcohol content: Hard alcohol and tobacco are prominent parts of Gabriel’s riotous lifestyle. He imbibes during raves, at hedonistic house parties, and most everywhere else. Stanley guzzles a bottle of wine and puffs through an emphysema-inducing amount of cigarettes. While lounging in Stanley’s house, Ginger drinks a beer. Stanley’s ex-wife drinks and smokes copiously. Gabriel and the Senator both smoke cigars.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
John Travolta as Gabriel Shear; Hugh Jackman as Stanley Jobson; Halle Berry as Ginger; Don Cheadle as Agent A.D. Roberts
Dominic Sena ( )