Cast: Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, Dan Ackroyd, River Phoenix, David Straithairn,
Mary McDonnell, Ben Kingsley
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Theatrical release: 1992; available on DVD
Back in the Dark Ages of computer crime and security breaches (oh, say, 1982), a trio of itinerant filmmakers hatched a fantastical story idea: a 'black box' that could break into any computer system in the world — and the power struggle for its control. Twenty-some years later, we all know a lot more than we wish we did about cyber-crime, identity theft, phishing scams, and the nefarious struggles of good guys versus bad guys. But that doesn't mean we still can't have fun watching a great caper film with a spectacular cast and a lot of humor sprinkled amidst the suspense.
In computer lore, the term 'sneakers' originated at IBM and referred to the 'kid' programmers — young punks who up-ended the nature of coding and who wore sneakers to the office — versus the brown-shoe-wearing old guard.
In the film, the Sneakers story takes up where War Games (another film by two of the same writers) left off. Although the film's on-screen computer technology is seriously outdated (remember the 'command line' interface where monitors show only lines of text — no graphics), it's still fun to watch this cast play with the premise.
Leading an eclectic team of renegade computer hackers is Robert Redford. (Yes, Redford. After all, we're talking many years ago....) With Sidney Poitier as an ex-CIA operative and a gaggle of soon-to-be-movie-stars as crew, Redford's group of 'sneakers' hires out to businesses who want to know how their security systems might withstand a bad-guy break-in. But every one of these characters has a shady element to their past, leaving them open to blackmail by government agents who want the black box while everyone co-opts the others in the struggle to get it.
The DVD's "Making of..." featurette offers a great background discussion with the three writers-directors-producers and some of the stars, including such things as how long it took to get the film made (more than 10 years), why Redford and the rest of the cast signed on, and other films by members of this creative trio (Field of Dreams among them).
If you like the TV series NUMB3RS, action-adventure yarns like Robert Ludlum's Jason Bourne trilogy, and spy thrillers such as Enemy of the State, check out Sneakers.