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Film / Swimming with Sharks

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"Things are rough now, but they'll get better. I promise, Guy. If you prove you can manage these tasks, if you work hard now, then you're rewarded. You get to have some fun. Because don't ever forget, this job is very big on payback."
Buddy Ackerman

A 1994 Black Comedy film written and directed by George Huang, starring Kevin Spacey, Frank Whaley, and Michelle Forbes, with a brief appearance by Benicio del Toro. The film revolves around a guy named Guy, who gets a high-profile job as the personal assistant to corporate bigwig Jerkass Mean Boss Buddy Ackerman. The film details the events, mainly in flashback, that lead from his first day on the job to the brutal kidnapping and torture of Buddy.

This film is at once a gripping thriller, a satirical Deconstruction of people's view of the glamorous world of film production and show business, and a brutal love-triangle scenario mixed with Grey-and-Gray Morality.

This film provides examples of:

  • Arc Words: Did Ackerman say it? Then yes, it will be important later. No exceptions. This also leads to many, many examples of Ironic Echo.
    What is it that you/do you (really) want ?
  • Bad Boss: Buddy, oh so very much. Not a scene passes where he isn't humiliating, berating or just generally treating the people around him horribly. Working for The Joker would be more pleasant than being his assistant.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Buddy manages to fully indoctrinate Guy and make him submit to his abuse, to the point that Guy kills Dawn to protect his own career.
  • Beleaguered Assistant: But of course.
    Buddy (Holding up schedule): You see this? This means more to the office than you. And yet, do I hear any complaints when I do THIS!? *throws scedule at Guy* These pencils, more important! These pens, more important! These paper clips, more important! You miserable little crybaby! You don't like it here, leave! There are thousands of people who would kill for your spot, who would kill for the opportunity to be here! I could spit and hit somebody who could do this job better than you! This is the fast-way to the top, and I don't see you breaking any speed records! Why don't you show a little backbone, huh!? Huh!?
  • Blatant Lies: Much of what Buddy says to Guy towards the beginning.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The very last moments. At first, Guy gives up a short speech about what you really want: well, it's the moral of the fiction, clearly stated and based on the whole movie, so that you understand it. And finally, when we see Buddy closing the doors, it's THE END.
  • Broken Aesop: If Buddy's speech about earning his position is designed to drive home an aesop about hard work, it is easy to misinterpret it as "endure cruelty, and inflicting it on others is not only justified, but your ''right''."
  • The Bully: Buddy.
    You're happy. I hate that!
  • Casting Couch: Fully exploited by Buddy, who's seen doing it with one actress and later Dawn to get their respective projects off the ground.
  • The Chessmaster: Buddy. It seems that most of everything that happened towards the later half of the kidnapping was planned by him. Dawn seemed to walk in at the perfect time. His questioning of Guy seemed planned-out. And even that final look to Guy says "Good, good, you passed the test."
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Guy, when he kidnaps Buddy.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Buddy, as befits who plays him, seems to speak almost entirely in vicious, condescending remarks when he isn't schmoozing higher ups with false charm or screaming his head off.
  • Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit: Ultimately Guy chooses the studio job, so he kills Dawn and he and Buddy tell a story that she was the one abusing Buddy while Guy saved him.
  • Freudian Excuse: Buddy, who was also a bullied assistant working for many tyrannical Mean Bosses for ten years. His wife's death, didn't seem to help his case.
    Buddy: What, your job is unfair to you? Grow up, way it goes! People use you? Life's unfair? Grow up, way it goes! Your girlfriend doesn't love you? Tough shit! Way it goes! Your wife gets raped and shot... And they leave their unfinished beers... Their, their stinkin' longnecks... Just lying there on the gr-... So be it. Way it goes.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: The three core characters (Guy, Buddy, and Dawn) all have their faults and sympathetic sides. Guy is a aspiring film writer who wants to get ahead in the film industry without doing any real effort. Buddy is a sadist executive who puts Guy through hell, but has a sob story that explains how he become the man he is. Dawn is introduced as a jerk executive who softens up when she and Guy become intimate.
    • Black-and-Grey Morality: Both Buddy and Guy cross into the black zone in the end when Guy kills Dawn to win Buddy's favor and get ahead in his career.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: It takes almost nothing to set Buddy off and get him screaming and get him inflicting emotional or physical abuse on whoever is near by.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Everything Buddy says during the last half of the kidnapping scenes.
  • Heroic BSoD: Guy's breakdown that leads to Buddy's kidnapping.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Buddy seems to believe that suffering abuse gives him the right to be an abuser although that may be a cover for the real reason.
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: Stacy, the rival producer.
  • Insistent Terminology: Buddy insists that one of his director choices, David Lean, isn't dead, simply "unavailable".
  • Ironic Echo: Everything Buddy says will be used sometime later by Guy in some way.
  • Jerkass: Buddy, to put it lightly. It's amazing that no one snapped on him earlier.
  • Karma Houdini: Buddy and Guy, after the latter murders Dawn, and both cover up the mess by pinning Dawn as Buddy's captor
  • Kick the Dog: Buddy's entire treatment of Guy. Being a tough boss with high or exact standards is one thing but he often just crosses the line into outright abuse and for no reason beyond sheer sadism.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Buddy's entire torture counts as this or disproportionate retribution.
  • Mean Boss: Do I even have to say?
  • Meaningful Echo: Again, everything Buddy says will come up again.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Buddy is absolutely horrible to everyone who works under him and is most definitely not a good person.
  • No Producers Were Harmed: It's theorized that Buddy's personality was based off real life Mean Boss movie producer Scott Rudin, while the films he produces are similar to that of Joel Silver.
  • No-Respect Guy: Guy, at the beginning.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Buddy to Guy.
    Look, I can appreciate this. I was young too, I felt just like you. Hated authority, hated all my bosses, thought they were full of shit. Look, it's like they say, if you're not a rebel by the age of 20, you got no heart, but if you haven't turned establishment by 30, you've got no brains. Because there are no story-book romances, no fairy-tale endings. So before you run out and change the world, ask yourself, "What do you really want?"
  • Professional Butt-Kisser: A requirement for the job.
  • The Power of Love: An epic inversion. Dawn arrives during Buddy's kidnapping and tries to talk some sense into Guy, imploring him not to sacrifice everything they have worked for together. And just when it seems like love will conquer all, Guy turns the gun on her and fires.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis! : SHUT UP. LISTEN. AND LEARN.
    You. Have. No. Brain.
  • Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: After a point, everything Buddy (who is tied to a chair after being kidnapped and brutally tortured) says seems planned out entirely.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Most of everything Ackerman says during the latter half of the kidnapping. Especially once Dawn arrives.
    Buddy: What happened to standing by your man, Dawn? Oh, that's right. You don't stand by your men. You stand on them as you climb up to get to the next one's bed. Yeah, let me tell you a little something about Dawn here. She used to be quite the little fuck-towel. Fresh film-school grad who fucked her way to top assistant desk, fucked her way to junior executive, and fucked her way to VP. It was quite a rise. Of course, she stopped all that the day she finally got her producer deal. Been three years now, trying to make important films, redeeming films. See, she started to worry about words like "honor," "dignity," and "respect." Words that a one-time, two-bit tramp could never afford.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Buddy does this to himself when he starts crying after bringing up his wife.
  • Sir Swearsalot: It's Kevin Spacey. You expect anything different?
  • Sleeping Their Way to the Top: See "The Reason You Suck" Speech. Buddy Ackerman accuses Dawn of sleeping her way to every position she got, from top assistant to getting a producer deal of her own.
  • Testosterone Poisoning: The films that Ackerman usually produces.
  • Teen Drama: The piece that Dawn and Guy are planning to put together.
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: Think out about how much you're bullying Guy before you get yourself kidnapped, Buddy!
  • We Can Rule Together: Buddy's speech to Guy when trying to get him to convince Dawn to come to their studio and not to their competitor's.