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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
I recently had the idea to talk about movies from one of my favorite years (1995). I’m going to continue that with tonight’s entry, Hackers starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Lee Miller. Here goes:
Once upon a time I reviewed this film with my good friend Heather. We ultimately decided it wasn’t worthy of being in the cult film canon. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see the value in Hackers. On the contrary, I find a ton to like here. Unlike Judge Dredd, last week-ish’s entry, Hackers has some fairly good characters and performances, nice low-key stakes and tense, interesting drama, a great soundtrack (techno was never better than in 1995), and an immeasurable sense of style. Hackers may not wear roller blades and carry pagers around in real life, but the film bleeds a sense of Cyber Punk subculture coolness that really spoke to me when I first saw it as a teenager.
And yet, Hackers is not a good film by any means. The plot is patently absurd: an evil computer security analyst frames a group of teenage hackers in order to create a diversion from the fact that he is also embezzling millions of dollars from an oil and mineral corporation. The hacking isn’t even believable for 1995 standards, and consists mainly of people typing randomly while looking at busy screens with impossible graphical interfaces (seriously, what operating systems are these people using?). The dialogue can be absolutely horrid, including one scene where a character laments the arrest of a friend but then immediately pines excitedly for an upcoming party.
So let’s break down what it is I like, ok? I mentioned earlier than I found some of the characters interesting, and that includes Johnny Lee Miller’s Dade Murphy, a character obviously modeled after Robert Tappan Morris. I like Murphy’s struggle to fit in with his new environment. I like Angelina Jolie (who I honestly believe has never been sexier than in this movie) as Kate Libby, and found her performance strong. And I like the villain, ably played by tremendous character-actor (and Oscar winner!) Fisher Stevens.
Though the hacking (and the special effects) are colossally lame, I found the film’s stylistic choices in filming the hacking (through a POV shot of computer chips and electric-looking wires and such) to be interesting. Director Iain Softley makes hacking look fairly cool. There is one scene in the film, let’s just call it a Hack-Off, where Miller and Jolie face off in making an FBI agent’s life a living hell. I particularly liked this montage sequence, and found it frenetic, fun, and funny. When Hackers does stuff like this, it is an interesting film. When it gets technical, overly seriously, and heavy on plot, it begins to suffer.
I feel I need to reiterate at this point: Hackers is not a good movie. It’s an interesting experiment in taking an at-the-time underground subculture, stylizing it, and attempting to bring it to the mainstream. Ultimately, the experiment failed. But the film lives on as a testament to what we thought was cool in 1995: roller blades, pagers, and the optimistic idea that computers could do anything we wanted them to.
Next up: Men of War, starring Dolph Lundgren.