Swordfish (2001)

Director: Dominic Sena
Writer: Skip Woods

Cast: John Travolta (Gabriel Shear), Hugh Jackman (Stanley Jobson), Halle Berry (Ginger Knowles), Don Cheadle (Agent J.T. Roberts), Sam Shepard (Senator James Reisman), Vinnie Jones (Marco), Drea de Matteo (Melissa), Rudolf Martin (Axl Torvalds), Zach Grenier (Assistant Director Bill Joy), Camryn Grimes (Holly Jobson), Angelo Pagan (Torres), Kirk B. R. Woller (Axl’s Lawyer), Carmen Argenziano (Agent), Tim DeKay (Agent), Laura Lane (Helga)

Genres: Action, Crime, Thriller
Released: June 8, 2001 (USA)
Running time: 99 minutes
MPAA: R — violence, language, some sexuality/nudity

When the DEA shut down its dummy corporation operation codenamed SWORDFISH in 1986, they had generated $400 million which they let sit around; fifteen years of compound interest has swelled it to $9.5 billion. A covert counter-terrorist unit called Black Cell, headed by the duplicitious and suave Gabriel Shear, wants the money to help finance their raise-the-stakes vengeance war against international terrorism, but it’s all locked away behind super-encryption. He brings in convicted hacker Stanley Jobson, who only wants to see his daughter Holly again but can’t afford the legal fees, to slice into the government mainframes and get the money.

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» Trivia

• Hugh Jackman had to take stunt driving classes to prepare for his role in Swordfish.

• The opening scene of Swordfish is the most complicated visual effect in Warner Brothers history. It was shot using Matrix-like effects (The Matrix) by Frantic Films of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The effect has so many composites in it that the producers and director of the film could not determine what was real and what was created by computer.

• The car that Gabriel drives is a British-made TVR Tuscan. The car is not sold in the United States because of its emissions levels.

• The film was withdrawn from cinemas shortly after the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington DC on 11 September 2001, due to a scene involving an exploding building.

• The helicopter is a Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane (CH-54 Tarhe). It is now being used to fight bush fires across Australia.

• The scene in which the school bus is swung was actually shot by hiring a group of people to sit in a bus, in front of a blue screen, while they swung the bus from a crane. According to the stunt coordinators, the same effect could have been portrayed for half the cost.

• Unlike many Hollywood movies, the amount of the ammunition in firearms is depicted correctly. During the chase sequence, Gabriel fires a total of 89 shots from M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, which carries a 200 round box.

• At one point during Stanley’s attempt to hack into the Department of Defense database, his screen shows six numbers that appear to be IP addresses. (The first is 213.225.312.5.) The numbers between decimal points in an IP address, called “octets”, are decimal representations of 8-bit numbers (8 binary digits of either 0 or 1). Therefore, the range of decimal numbers for an octet is 0 to 255, because 11111111 in binary is 255 in decimal. The IP addresses on Stanley’s screen each contain one octet higher than 255 (such as 312 in the first example), which is apparently the filmmakers’ way of ensuring that no one’s real IP address appeared.

• John Travolta turned down the part of Gabriel a total of six times. He changed his mind when he heard director Dominic Sena’s take on it.

• Halle Berry agreed to the topless scene – ostensibly for an extra fee of $500,000 – because she wanted to overcome her fear of doing nude scenes. This was on top of her initial fee of $2 million.

• The dramatic explosion at the start of the film was captured using 135 synchronized still cameras.

• Nick Nolte was originally considered for the senator part that eventually went to Sam Shepard.

• Drea de Matteo filmed all her scenes in one day.

• John Cusack and Val Kilmer were considered for the part of Stanley. Ultimately, director Dominic Sena opted for Hugh Jackman because he didn’t bring too much baggage from other films with him.

• The actors were all reacting to blank computer screens. The graphics were added later.

• Rudolf Martin plays Axl Torvalds, a hacker of some renown in the film. The character is named after Linus Torvalds, a “hacker” in real life, who wrote Linux Kernel, the original code for the open source computer Operating System named after him, Linux. Axl and Linus are both Finnish.

• The original screenplay draft had a very different take on the Gabriel Shear character. He was first written as a mercenary whose plan for the stolen DEA funds had him joining forces with military and intelligence figures and planning to destroy corrupt politicians, and had several lengthy monologues in which U.S. agents listened to him and then joined his crusade on the spot. While the funding/covert war angle was maintained, Skip Woods later remade Gabriel Shear into a patriotic agent who seeks to destroy world terrorists, and who kills the Senator and his aide for trying to kill him and stop his plans.

• The climax was originally intended to be an airport shootout.

» Quotes

Stanley: It’s not gonna end like this.
Gabriel: Oh, come on, Stan. Not everything ends the way you think it should. Besides, audiences love happy endings.

Gabriel: Have you ever heard of Harry Houdini? Well he wasn’t like today’s magicians who are only interested in television ratings. He was an artist. He could make an elephant disappear in the middle of a theater filled with people, and do you know how he did that? Misdirection.
Stanley: What the fuck are you talking about?
Gabriel: Misdirection. What the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes.

Stanley: And you are?
Ginger: I’m Ginger.
Stanley: Where’s Gilligan?

Ginger: You’re not too good at this golf thing, are you, Stan?
Stanley: You’re fucking up my chi.

Gabriel: You know what the problem with Hollywood is? They make shit. Unbelievable, unremarkable shit. Now I’m not some grungy wannabe filmmaker that’s searching for existentialism through a haze of bong smoke or something. No, it’s easy to pick apart bad acting, short-sighted directing, and a purely moronic stringing together of words that many of the studios term as “prose”. No, I’m talking about the lack of realism. Realism; not a pervasive element in today’s modern American cinematic vision. Take Dog Day Afternoon, for example. Arguably Pacino’s best work, short of Scarface and Godfather Part 1, of course. Masterpiece of directing, easily Lumet’s best. The cinematography, the acting, the screenplay, all top-notch. But… they didn’t push the envelope. Now what if in Dog Day, Sonny wanted to get away with it, REALLY wanted to get away with it? What if – now here’s the tricky part – what if he started killing hostages right away? No mercy, no quarter. “Meet our demands or the pretty blonde in the bellbottoms gets it the back of the head.” Bam, splat! What, still no bus? Come on! How many innocent victims splattered across a window would it take to have the city reverse its policy on hostage situations? And this is 1976; there’s no CNN, there’s no CNBC, there’s no internet! Now fast forward to today, present time, same situation. How quickly would the modern media make a frenzy over this? In a matter of hours, it’d be biggest story from Boston to Budapest! Ten hostages die, twenty, thirty; bam bam, right after another, all caught in high-def, computer-enhanced, color corrected. You can practically taste the brain matter. All for what? A bus, a plane? A couple of million dollars that’s federally insured? I don’t think so. Just a thought. I mean, it’s not within the realm of conventional cinema… but what if?

Gabriel: I have been told that the best crackers in the world can do this under 60 minutes, but unfortunately I need someone who can do this under 60 seconds.

Stanley: War? Who are we at war with?
Gabriel: Anyone who impinges on America’s freedom. Terrorist states, Stanley. Someone must bring their war to them. They bomb a church, we bomb ten. They hijack a plane, we take out an airport. They execute American tourists, we tactically nuke an entire city. Our job is to make terrorism so horrific that it becomes unthinkable to attack Americans.

Gabriel: It’s kinda like masturbation without the payoff.

Ginger: Surprised that a girl with an IQ over seventy can give you a hard on?

Roberts: How do I find this guy?
Axl Torvalds: You don’t find him; he finds you.

Stanley: What are you still doing here? Look, I’m beginning to lose my sense of humor about all this.
Ginger: Ok, then I’ll cut to the chase. If you want a chance in hell at getting your daughter back you better listen up. Unless of course, you want to stay here, in this loser existence, while your daughter grows up to be a fluffer in her new daddy’s videos.
Stanley: With the courtesy of not confusing your own childhood with my daughter’s.

Gabriel: Big Stan! Nice suit.
Stanley: Thanks.
Gabriel: They say it’s the suit that makes the man.
Stanley: Buy it?
Gabriel: Hope not!

Ginger: You know, you should really have let me buy you a suit, Stanley.
Stanley: I’m happy with what I’m wearing, thank you.
Ginger: Ignorance is bliss.

Marco: [looks at Stanley while packing away a rocket launcher] What? [pauses, then looks to a hostage] I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: If that launcher was a suppository, would that bad man stick it up my ass? Well, you eyeball me once more boy, [puts a handgun to the hostage’s head] and I’ll stick it so far up your ass, you’ll be begging me for this bullet.

[Stanley is going to drive Gabriel’s car during a shoot-out with the police]
Stanley: I can’t drive this thing!
Gabriel: Learn!

Axl Torvalds: He exists in a world beyond your world. What we only fantasize, he does. He lives a life where nothing is beyond him. But you know what? It’s all a facade. For all his charm and charisma, his wealth, his expensive toys… he’s a driven, unflinching, calculating machine. He takes what he wants, when he wants… and disappears.

Stanley: How can you justify all this?
Gabriel: You’re not looking at the big picture, Stan. Here’s a scenario. You have the power to cure all the world’s diseases but the price for this is that you must kill a single innocent child, could you kill that child, Stanley?
Stanley: No.
Gabriel: You disappoint me; it’s the greatest good.
Stanley: Well, how about 10 innocents?
Gabriel: Now you’re gettin’ it, how about a hundred — how about a THOUSAND? Not to save the world but to preserve our way of life.
Stanley: No man has the right to make that decision; you’re no different from any other terrorist.
Gabriel: No, you’re wrong, Stanley. Thousands die every day for no reason at all, where’s your bleeding heart for them? You give your twenty dollars to Greenpeace every year thinking you’re changing the world? What countries will harbor terrorists when they realize the consequences of what I’ll do? Did you know that I can buy nuclear warheads in Minsk for forty million each? Hell, I’d buy half a dozen and even get a discount!

Ginger: For someone the NSA once listed as the most dangerous hacker in America, you sure don’t look like much.

Gabriel: Don’t confuse kindness with weakness.

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