Ruthlessly grabbing your attention from the very beginning, Swordfish kick starts with a jaw-dropping spectacle of mass carnage that is one of the most impressive scenes of utter destruction in cinematic history to date: a giant explosion played out in slow motion in which the camera pans through the chaos Matrix-style, following bits of shrapnel as they rip through vehicles, buildings, and people. This wholesale annihilation is so awe-inspiring that even jaded movie fans can sit back and breathe, "Oh my God..." when it is finally over. The only problem with this amazing set-up is that the subsequent scenes never quite live up to the level of accomplishment it has established.
In this entertaining thriller about cyberspace espionage, John Travolta is Gabriel Shear, the fanatical but charismatic head of a rogue government organization unofficially charged with protecting America at whatever the cost. This radical faction of black ops doesn't settle for the old adage "an eye for an eye." Instead, it's more like "ten eyes for an eye." Gabriel claims that when enemies of the U.S. use violence against Americans, his group retaliates with even more violence, the ultimate goal being to make terrorism against America an unthinkable option. But since their tactics are so extreme, they cannot be openly sanctioned by the government. Thus, they must resort to equally underground tactics to fund their operations.
Enter Stanley Jobson (played by Hugh Jackman), one of the world's most accomplished computer hackers. His ex-wife has shacked up with a rich pornographer, and Stanley is involved in a bitter custody battle with her over their young daughter. Gabriel makes Stanley an offer he simply can't refuse: enough money to hire the best lawyer and win legally custody of his child from her unfit mother. Although it violates his ethics and probation, Stanley agrees to the job, and he is quickly sucked into the lavish, seedy world of cybercrime.
The problem with Swordfish isn't in its outlandish conspiracy laced script, or even the multitude of computer hacking cliches. Besides not living up to the spectacular opening scene, the majority of the movie spends its time trying to convince you that Gabriel and his crew are willing to sacrifice huge amounts of time, resources, money, and human life just to steal a few billion dollars. It's simply too hard to believe that a government organization, covert or no, would do so much for an amount that is pocket change to rich businessmen like Bill Gates. Now if they were talking $100 billion or more, I might be able to see it. But after you back out the costs of Gabriel's lavish house, all the computer equipment, the giant helicopter that can carry a bus, and all the other stuff, how much profit are they turning? Sure, this is a stupid nitpick, but it's one that's staring at you blank in the face.
Rating: 6 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)