Phil Alden Robinson
- Robert Redford as Martin Bishop
- Dan Aykroyd as Mother
- Sidney Poitier as Donald Crease
- David Strathairn as Whistler
- Mary McDonnell as Liz
- River Phoenix as Carl Arbogast
- Ben Kingsley as Cosmo
An enjoyable and light-hearted caper movie, Sneakers boasts an all-star cast and a sparkling script as well as ratcheting up the tension at various times.
Martin Bishop runs a San Francisco team known collectively as ‘Sneakers’, their job is to break into security systems to check the effectiveness of them. The rag-tag team comprises of former CIA operative Donald Crease, Mother, an electronics technician and conspiracy theorist, Whistler, a blind man with exceptional hearing and enthusiastic whizz kid Carl Arbogast. Everything is going fine until the NSA contacts Martin. They have information regarding his past as a student radical that could have him imprisoned. The case will be dropped if Martin and his team can recover a black box from a prominent mathematician. Although reluctant to help, Martin sees that he has no choice if he wants to avoid his past coming back to bite him. Enlisting the help of his team and well as his old flame Liz, they manage to track down the box with their combination of technical skill and smarts. This is when the twists arrive and the mathematician is murdered. It seems this black box is a codebreaker that can used to break into even the most secure building ever. Martin and the rest of the team must decide what to do before it falls into the wrong hands and as they soon become embroiled in a web of crime and espionage with a face from Martin’s past coming back to haunt him.
A script brimming with comic interplay gives Sneakers a humorous edge and allows us to root for the characters and believe the long-standing camaraderie that they have with one another.Phil Alden Robinson directs with brisk assurance and verve, giving us the many dangerous incidents that the team find themselves in a warmth yet a deep seriousness and suspense. The various technological aspects of the case are presented in striking visuals, a standout scene being the team cracking an important anagram using the pieces from a Scrabble game and Whistler’s extraordinary hearing and computer skills. The scene features initially slow cuts between the two factions of the team that quicken in time with the score as the code is eventually cracked. This gives the film an enjoyable factor and makes it a cracking crime caper peppered with humour and an abundance of twists. Tension is also high in the scenes of the team sneaking into a secure building in order to retrieve the stolen box, and trying to avoid the hi-tech sensors employed to ensure no one can enter undetected. Some of the technical jargon may become confusing and the narrative may lull in various places, but for most of the duration Sneakers is a sparkling and fun crime caper. James Horner provides the lively score of trickling piano and unusual percussion to give the feelings of danger and a race against time for team.
Heading the all-star cast is Robert Redford who sends himself up a little with his mix of charm and wit in the role of Martin, the leader of the ‘Sneakers’. Dan Aykroyd is a hoot as the conspiracy theorist who won’t take no for an answer. Sidney Poitier plays the role of the former CIA operative with ease and eye-rolling humour as he is the one who often disagrees with rash decisions by younger members of the team but finds himself going along with it, albeit under duress. David Strathairn steals all the scenes he is in as Whistler, the blind man with amazing hearing whose skills are invaluable to the gang in their times of need. As the main female in the movie, Mary McDonnell shows that it’s not just the men who can have fun with her sharp performance as Liz, the former girlfriend of Martin whose smarts and good looks come in very handy with this most complex case. In one of his last roles before his untimely death, River Phoenix gives a nervous exuberance to the role of computer whizz kid Carl, the youngest member of the team who is constantly on the lookout for an attractive woman in his life. The weak link in the chain of excellent performances is surprisingly Ben Kingsley as a face from Martin’s past with villainous designs. We all know that Kingsley can play the villain in his sleep, but he isn’t given enough screen time to make him a compelling adversary for Martin and his team.
Bristling with light-hearted charm, excellent performances and caper shenanigans, Sneakers is if nothing else an enjoyable movie with style and humour.