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TUCoPS :: Cyber Culture :: ehackers.txt

Roger Ebert's review of "Hackers"

Movies/Roger Ebert

Review by Roger Ebert
* * * 
Dade .............. Jonny Lee Miller 
Kate .............. Angelina Jolie 
Joey .............. Jesse Bradford 
Cereal ............ Matthew Lillard 
Nikon ............. Laurence Mason 
Phreak ............ Renoly Santiago 
The Plague ........ Fisher Stevens 
Lauren Murphy ..... Alberta Watson 
        United Artists presents a film directed by Iain Softley. Produced by
Michael Peyser and Ralph Winter. Written by Rafael Moreu. Photographed by
Andrzej Sekula. Edited by Christopher Blunden and Martin Walsh. Music by Simon
Boswell. Running time: 105 minutes. Classified: PG-13 (for some sexuality and
brief strong language). 
        "Hackers" wasn't even into the theaters before attacks on it started
online. It represents a new genre, "hacksploitation," Mac expert Andy Ihnatko
grumbled on CompuServe, adding that like a lot of other computer movies, it
achieves the neat trick of projecting images from computer screens onto the
faces of their users, so that you can see graphics and data crawling up their
chins and breaking over their noses.
        This grinching illustrates my theory that you should never send an
expert to a movie about his specialty. Boxers hate boxing movies. Space buffs
said "Apollo 13" showed the wrong side of the Moon. The British believe Mel
Gibson's scholarship was faulty in "Braveheart," merely because some of the key
characters hadn't been born at the time of the story.
        "Hackers" is, I have no doubt, deeply dubious in the computer science
department. It shares the common hacksploitation conceit that a kid with a
computer and a modem can alter the course of human events with a few taps on his
keyboard. As the movie opens, indeed, an 11-year-old named Dade has crashed
hundreds of computers on Wall Street and brought about a worldwide financial
crisis. For his punishment, he is ordered not to go near another computer until
his 18th birthday.
        Flash forward to Dade's 18th year. Now played by Jonny Lee Miller, he's
hacking away again, and gets involved with a bunch of other brilliant teen-age
computer whizzes at his high school. At first they compete with one another.
Then they discover they have a common enemy: the gifted but evil hacker
code-named Plague (Fisher Stevens), who is in charge of security at a
multinational conglomerate. He wants to frame them as a cover for his own
crimes, which involve transferring large sums into the accounts of himself and
his mistress (Lorraine Bracco).
        All of the computer stuff is, of course, window- dressing, even the
scheme to sink a super tanker. They're what Hitchcock called the MacGuffin --
the stuff everybody pretends to be motivated by, while actually the plot centers
on personalities and human nature. The best thing in "Hackers" is the
relationship that develops between Dade and Kate (Angelina Jolie), a brusque,
self-contained girl who becomes his partner in the online war.
        Jolie, the daughter of Jon Voight, and Miller, a British newcomer, bring
a particular quality to their performances that is convincing and engaging. And
the other kids in the movie are interesting, too, especially a young Latin
genius named Phreak, played by Renoly Santiago. I saw this movie not long after
viewing "Dangerous Minds," and was struck by how much more authentic these
characters seemed -- they're younger, more intense and vulnerable, and more
gawky than hunky.
        Against them, the movie has the wit to create a smart, quirky villain,
instead of relying on the usual boring white-collar versions of Conglomerate
Man. The Fisher Stevens character is an outlaw at heart, a hacker who simply
happens to be playing for the other side, and Stevens gives The Plague a weirdo
spin: He can fight these kids because he's as obsessed as they are.
        The movie is smart and entertaining, then, as long as you don't take the
computer stuff very seriously. I didn't. I took it approximately as seriously as
the archeology in "Indiana Jones." I liked the pacing and energy in the
direction by Iain Softley (whose previous film, "Backbeat," was about the early
Beatles). I liked ingenious touches like a sequence where two hackers battle to
control the programming at a radio station, and we see a duel between two robot
cassette machines. I liked the way The Plague created a virus designed to catch
his enemies. And I liked the way Kate told Dade, "I don't do dates," early in
the film. That put their relationship on a footing that neatly avoided several
obligatory scenes of teen-age love cliches.
        The movie is well directed, written and acted, and while it is no doubt
true that in real life no hacker could do what the characters in this movie do,
it is no doubt equally true that what hackers can do would not make a very
entertaining movie. Now that Andy Warhol is gone, who do we have who could
direct a film in which a pimply geek spends several hours staring at a computer
screen that doesn't even project images that crawl up his nose?
                COPYRIGHT 1995 THE EBERT CO. LTD.

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