Swordfish — Reflecting on a Mainstream Hollywood Movie where Halle Berry’s Boobs Became the Focus of
I think everyone has those movies that they’ve inadvertently watched an above-average amount of times. I’m not talking about the movies you love and obsess over like Star Wars, LOTR, or franchises like The Avengers. I’m talking about ones that you have watched repeatedly through happenstance and coincidence. Ones that you might not particularly like, but someone perhaps gifted you a copy of it, or it always seems to be on the TV when you flick the channel or go over to a friend's house to hang out.
The biggest example of this for me is ‘The Game’ starring Michael Douglas. It was the VHS days, and we had rented it for the evening. Just as we finished watching the film, our dodgy machine guzzled the tape at the end credits and our local video rental store forced us to pay the full amount for them to purchase a new one (which from memory was an extortionate $100). Deciding to keep the broken copy, my ever ingenious father tied a knot in the tape and thus we added The Game to our extremely barren library of movies. We would never be able to watch the end credits again, but dammit if we didn’t get our money’s worth on repeat viewings of that enjoyable yet plothole riddled thriller.
Swordfish is another example of a movie that I watched many times in the years after its release. The movie was a decent hit in my home country Australia, no doubt because our own Hugh Jackman — who just one year earlier had ‘made it’ in Hollywood as Wolverine in the first X-Men film— was the main protagonist. The movie also had a couple of other things going for it to that I’ll get to a little bit later, that were utilized in the marketing campaign to lure teens like myself to the cineplex. For a while, in my friendship circle, this movie was everywhere and I saw it a lot.
Now Swordfish isn’t a great movie. The poor Rotten Tomato rating of 25% and the fact that John Travolta was nominated a Razzie for his role, would suggest that it isn’t in fact a good movie either. But I think it has some merits. Granted its technology-based premise has dated terribly and its plot has more holes in it than a block of cheese that’s had a ballbearing bomb from the movie detonated from within its gooey center…but it is fun. It has some decent action set pieces and a cast of well-known actors that keep the entertainment coming.
During the week I decided to revisit this 2001 thriller, as it was streaming on yet another platform I’ve subscribed to. Once again it kept my attention to the very end, and I came away with a few thoughts on why that is, how the movie has aged and just how bat shit crazy the movie can be at times.
Travolta, Jackman, Berry, and Cheadle are the four big names on the poster and they are a strong lineup of star power. As mentioned before, the movie was released on the back of the first X-men movie, of which Berry and Jackman were stars, which was a good drawcard. While those two stars were rising, Travolta was arguably at the end of his Pulp Fiction renaissance, having subjected the world to Battlefield Earth a year prior. Don Cheadle meanwhile was years away from Avenger mega-machine but was well known for his supporting characters in some great movies. Wherever these four actors were in their career, you can’t argue that they’ve all been in some great movies, and they have great screen presence. And Travolta getting a Rassie nomination for playing Gabriel in the film? Well, he was definitely over the top as the villain, but that’s his M.O. in these sorts of thrillers. I actually think part of it was a hangover from Battlefield Earth and his five winning gongs the year prior. Perhaps it was a case of kicking a guy while he was down. Perhaps I’m being too forgiving and most people thought he was terrible in the movie.
Hackers and Head Jobs
If you want to motivate your computer programmers to do their best work, Swordfish probably shouldn’t be used as an instruction guide on how to do so. Putting a gun to a hackers head while he’s receiving an unwanted head job generally isn’t the sort of motivation that’s going to get you the results you’re after. Looking back at that scene, it’s just pure gratuitous nonsense. Truly, my older 2020 brain wonders how a scene like that even made it into the movie…but then I remember thinking it was kind of cool in 2001. Perhaps I’m just old, but I don’t think a scene like that would make it into a mainstream thriller these days. It’s just too stupid and in light of the #metoo movement, on the nose.
The other scenes throughout the movie where hacking/technology are heavy in the script are just as laughable. From the impracticable multiscreen interface that Jackman works his magic on, to the 80’s montage of him wrestling with his encryption algorithm until he finally cracks it. Who knew that programmers had handy graphical animations to let them know they were on the right track! They obviously had someone on the set that knew something about computers and programming, but none of it dates well. You might argue that some 80’s movies like War Games, where Matthew Broderick nearly starts WWIII with his little green-screened computer, are just as bad, but I think that example comes off as charming and a product of its time. With Swordfish, it feels like they were trying a bit too hard to impress everyone.
Halle Berry’s Boobs
Yes, I used Boobs in the title of this article as a drawcard. Shame on me? Well, what about the marketing team of Swordfish? I wouldn’t be surprised if they considered calling the movie Swordboobs at some point, so prevalent was the topic in their marketing campaign. Truly, the main focus in the press for the movie was how much Hallie Berry got paid to flash her boobs in a scene at around the middle point of the movie. Apparently it was $500k, although Berry denied it. The conjecture, chatter, and rumor around this were in overdrive at the time. No doubt it was what gave the movie more exposure that it possibly deserved. I’m sure that a large percentage of bums on seats at the cinema was the result of this phenomenon. The irony is, after all that conjecture, Berry would go on to be fully nude in many scenes of Monsters Ball that very same year. This was definitely a case of sex sells.
I’ll end with the story, which by and large is very muddled. I’m actually not sure if we’re supposed to be rooting for Travolta’s character or be against him by the end of the movie. He’s obviously nuts, yet he’s also a patriot to his country, saving the world from terrorism. Jackman’s Stanley seems way too cool to be the number one hacker in the world; with a porn star ex-wife and washboard abs. The twists and turns in the movie are confused rather than exhilarating. The action is over the top and fun enough, but completely unrealistic.
Would I recommend Swordfish to anyone to watch? I’m not sure. Perhaps I was wearing rose-colored glasses on my rewatch, as it took me back to a certain time in life and I found myself enjoying it. I’ve also just pointed out a bunch of flaws that would suggest I’m telling people to far stay away. I think I’m going to put Swordfish in the ‘it’s so bad it’s good’ category and allow people to reach their own conclusions. At least going in you now know that you’re going to get a madcap storyline, over the top action sequences, and a gratuitous set of boobs that was the secret to the movie's moderate success at the box office.
This article was original posted here: https://medium.com/@peterwilson_39161/swordfish-reflecting-on-a-mainstream-hollywood-movie-where-halle-berrys-boobs-became-the-focus-76d6e520ed36