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Film: Swordfish

Swordfish is a hacker film starring John Travolta and X-Men actors Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry (and future X-actor, Vinnie Jones). Drea de Matteo briefly stars as Stanley's ex-wife.

The plot revolves around Stanley Jobson, a paroled hacker who is drawn into a complicated Travoltian Gambit Roulette by Gabriel Shear and his beautiful assistant Ginger. Stanley, in desperate need of money to gain custody of his daughter, agrees to help Gabriel steal money from the government to run his vigilante counter-terrorism unit.

Background note: The idea for the title of this movie - although it's not mentioned in the film - comes from the Marx Brothers movie Animal Crackers where one of the brothers is guarding a door, and is told not to let anyone in unless they know the password, which is swordfish.


This film provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: It's not the first movie where John Travolta used surgery as a means of disguise.
  • Affably Evil: Gabriel is this, crossed with a helping of America-centric Well-Intentioned Extremist (by his lights, anyway).
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Gabriel Shear and Ginger Knowles fake their own deaths and get away rich, evading justice. They use the money to fund a worldwide anti-terrorism campaign. Although in the alternate ending on the DVD it becomes Pyrrhic Villainy. After the bad guys fake their deaths, Stanley Jobson is shown in a cafe with his daughter and using a laptop to steal all their money and donate it to charity, so the bad guys end up having to leave the country completely broke.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Sort of. Any Finnish speaker will tell you that the "language" spoken by the Finnish hacker and his legal counsel is most definitely not Finnish (it's actually German, and changed to actual Finish in the German dub, where he said "Haista paska senkin mulkku", which means, "Fuck you, you dick").
  • Bullet Time: When the hostage explodes in the opening, the film moves into Bullet Time and does an Orbital Shot to showcase the damage done to everyone in the vicinity.
  • Bus Full of Innocents: Gabriel has himself, his henchmen and hostages moved into a bus to escape.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Gabriel's lecture to Stan about famous magician Harry Houdini and the importance of "misdirection" helps Stan later realise that "Gabriel" didn't die in the helicopter that Stan shot down.
  • Conversational Troping: In the opening scene, Gabriel is discussing Ending Tropes with Stanley and Agent Roberts. He compares the hostage situation he is leading with the one in Dog Day Afternoon, and argues that it would be more realistic if the hostage takers in that movie would have been much more cruel, killing multiple hostages from the start, and getting away with the money. Stanley and Roberts argue that audiences will expect a Happy Ending, and that the bad guy can't win to force home An Aesop that crime doesn't pay. Of course, they're trying to invoke it because they don't want Gabriel to do just that to his hostages. It's all foreshadowing to this film's ending, in which Gabriel does get the money and wins.
  • Cool Car: The TVR Tuscan that Gabriel drives. Powerful four-litre engine, lightweight fibreglass body, unique chameleon-style paint, machine gun in the trunk.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: Gabriel opens the film pondering the potential success of a movie where the hostage taker gets away with everything. He even discusses the story and the mistakes the robbers made in the bank robbery film Dog Day Afternoon. During the hostage negotiation, he even orders a plane on a runway. By the end of the film, he and Ginger come out on top over Stan, their plan a complete success.
  • Disney Villain Death: Subverted. Marco (Vinnie Jones) falls out of the bus when it is hanging vertically under the transport helicopter carrying it, along with a hostage. They fall to their deaths, but halfway down the bomb that was strapped to the hostage suddenly explodes, killing them both before they can hit the ground.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: After Stanley sees Ginger bathing topless, he bumps into a table when he leaves.
  • Do Not Pass Go: Stanley says this to Ginger when she tries to persuade him to come work for Gabriel.
    Stanley: You're wasting your time. If I so much as touch a computer I go straight back to Leavenworth. Do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars.
  • The Dragon: Gabriel Shear. Turns out to be Dragon-in-Chief. Until he kills the senator for wanting to stop the operation, and continues the operation.
  • Explosive Leash: Completed with over two kilograms of stainless steel balls, turning each hostage into "the world's largest claymore mines."
  • Faking the Dead:
    • Gabriel Shear kills his female subordinate to show that he is serious. Only she's not really dead, obviously.
    • The body of the real Gabriel Shear (a Mossad agent) was in the wreck to make everyone think the Dragon-in-Chief was dead. See also Chekhov's Gun.
  • False Flag Operation: Gabriel Shear is part of a secret U.S. government agency that plans to attack terrorist states in more horrific ways than attacks they have supported, ostensibly as right-wing terrorists themselves. The idea is the terrorist states will become too afraid of a group that can carry out such attacks that none would dare support a group for attacking the U.S. Of course, it first requires they make a terrorist attack on US soil themselves, partly to seize a DEA slush fund for their bankroll (since the secret government money gets cut off), which helps establish their terrorist bonafides at the same time.
  • Famous-Named Foreigner: Axl Torvalds.
  • Fanservice: Seems to be Halle Berry's main purpose in the movie. Also in-universe her character to Stanley.
  • Gambit Roulette: Stan being able to Hollywood-Hack a 1,024-bit encryption in 1 minute, the FBI having no actual rescue plan for a hostage situation, not-dead Ginger escaping before the FBI could rush the bank and find her, the airlifted bus not falling completely, Stan successfully blowing up Gabriel's chopper. Any number of these things could have derailed the plan.
  • Guns Akimbo: Gabriel dual wields a pair of handguns in the car chase scene when he shoots at the attackers at both his sides.
  • Hacker Cave
  • Hollywood Hacking: The writers were aware of it; the dialogue describing the actual hacking is pure technobabble that any computer expert would call Critical Research Failure immediately.
    • The "hacking" shown in the beginning is nothing more than a linux file directory being shown scrolling over and over again.
  • Idiot Ball: The police hold this at the start/near-end of the film. They shoot one of the hostage-takers to rescue a hostage in the middle of negotiations with the leader. Never mind that so blatantly rescuing just one hostage would be liable to provoke the others to start killing, regardless of the negotiations currently going on, she's quite obviously got a bomb strapped to her. Even if they didn't know what the bomb is capable of, that's reason enough not to act so recklessly. The predictable happens.
  • In Medias Res: The film starts with a scene close to the end of the film, just to kick the plot off with a big explosion.
  • Involuntary Charity Donation: Only as an alternate ending on the VHS version (also featured as a DVD extra), where the hacker transferred money while her daughter watched. The canonical ending has the bad guys get away with the money.
  • Ironic Echo: Gabriel counting down from 60 seconds while Stanley frantically hacks into a supposedly "impenetrable" security system, with the implication that someone will die if he fails in time, happens both at the beginning and the end of the movie.
  • Logo Gag: The studio's logos at the start of the film appear flickering like on a cheap video camera.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Gabriel Shear is working under Senator James Reisman. Up until Reisman tries to have him killed, at which point all bets are off.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The opening of the film has the SWAT team "rescue" a hostage being shown off to demonstrate the fancy explosives Gabriel has equipped them with. They get all of twenty feet before the Explosive Leash kicks in and blows up a sizable chuck of the police force on-scene.
  • Playful Hacker: Stanley Jobson. Arguably Deconstructed - he's got the requisite madskillz and moral compass, but this just means The Government is that much more smug when they catch up with him and punish him for his actions: destroying the FBI Carnivore program was actually praised by enough of the public to force them to parole him away from computers instead of giving him a prison sentence. But, when his wife divorces him due to him losing his job, they have a judge award his alcoholic wife with their daughter even after she marries the porn king she works for.
  • The Password Is Always Swordfish: Surprisingly averted. Except at the end, where the password is actually "swordfish". Otherwise, there are no passwords to speak of.
    • "Password: Swordfish" is the tagline/unofficial title of the film and the official title in Germany and Russia.
  • Rape By Proxy: Gabriel forces Stanley at gunpoint to hack into the mainframe of the United States Department of Defense, while he gets a blowjob from a woman who works for Gabriel. Afterwards Stanley is more pissed off about the gun to his head than the fact that he was forced into sex, partly because the film implies the "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization.
  • Renegade Splinter Faction: Black Cell, a covert government agency created to protect America at any cost. Already going extreme lengths, Gabriel (who leads the unit) goes full renegade when he kills the senator overseeing the unit. Even after this, they operate by their original mandate.
  • Short Lived Aerial Escape: Gabriel just so happens to have a helicopter on hand and tries to use it to escape in only for Stan to blow it up with a rocket-propelled grenade. Turns out it's all part of his game of Gambit Roulette.
  • Shout-Out: The character Axl Torvalds is named after Linus Torvalds, who wrote the Linux Kernel. Assistant Director Bill Joy is named after Bill Joy, co-founder and former chief scientist of Sun Microsystems.
  • Surprisingly Good German The supposedly Finnish hacker speaks German like he was born or, at least, lived a long time there. His lawyer isn't too bad, either.
  • Title Drop: "Swordfish" is the name of the DEA black project that produced the slush fund the villain wishes to steal.
  • Villain Opening Scene: The movie opens with Gabriel monologuing.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Gabriel's criminal organization turns to be a secret, unofficial paramilitary unit whose mandate is to defeat terrorism by striking against suspected terrorists and the countries that harbor them. They also fund their activities with high-end crimes, not much caring how many lives it will cost.


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alternative title(s): Swordfish
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