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An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: Sneakers (1992)

PUBLISHED: 16:57 20 September 2018 | UPDATED: 16:57 20 September 2018

Robert Redford and Sidney Poitier in the comedy techno-thriller Sneakers Photo: Universal

Robert Redford and Sidney Poitier in the comedy techno-thriller Sneakers Photo: Universal

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Movies that tell a good story and have engaging characters provide that all-important re-watch value necessary for a great film. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies which may entertain if you are in the mood for something different

River Phoenix, Robert Redford, Dan Ayckroyd and Sidney Poitier in the comedy techno-thriller Sneakers Photo: UniversalRiver Phoenix, Robert Redford, Dan Ayckroyd and Sidney Poitier in the comedy techno-thriller Sneakers Photo: Universal

Sneakers; dir: Phil Alden Robinson; starring: Robert Redford, Dan Aykroyd, Ben Kingsley, Mary McDonnell, River Phoenix, Sidney Poitier, David Strathairn Cert: 12 (1992)

There’s some good news contained in this week’s alternative great film. The first piece is that cowards, nerds and conspiracy theorists can be heroes too and the second is that great films don’t need to be heavyweight dramas to be celebrated.

Sneakers is an espionage thriller where the bad guys are essentially the good guys and the real bad guys are the government or big business or the CIA or the NSA? It doesn’t really matter because Sneakers is essentially a well written, superbly acted buddy movie.

Ben Kingsley in the comedy techno-thriller Sneakers Photo: UniversalBen Kingsley in the comedy techno-thriller Sneakers Photo: Universal

It’s not plot heavy but the writing has gone into developing the relationships between a large band of characters and its keeps you engaged all the way through. If you are looking for ‘meaning’ in the mayhem then it offers a look at how friendships can change over a lifetime and what happens to the security services when they start watching the people they should be trying to protect.

We join the film is the middle of a break-in. It is the late 60s, two young, idealistic college students Martin and Cosmo are trying a little computer hacking. Martin nips out for some much-needed pizza just as the police arrive and cart Cosmo off to prison.

Jump forward 25 years, the adult Martin (Robert Redford) is now legit (sort of) and is employed by banks and hi-tech companies to hack into their systems to expose weaknesses. He and his team of misfits have become the leaders in their field but their dubious pasts have left them open to blackmail by unscrupulous government agents. Faced with jail (or worse) Redford and the team agree to do their duty and help their country’s security services retrieve a little black box from The Russians.

Robert Redford's computer hackers finally have to face the music in the comedy techno-thriller Sneakers Photo: UniversalRobert Redford's computer hackers finally have to face the music in the comedy techno-thriller Sneakers Photo: Universal

Having recovered their target, because of their group paranoia and their inherent distrust of authority, they decide to investigate their prize and are shocked by what they discover and vow that no-one should have it. It is only then that they become aware that not everyone is who they seem to be.

On the surface Sneakers is a serviceable techno-thriller. What makes it a total joy to watch and the re-watch is the chemistry between this band of misfits and the sparkling way they play off one another. Every character is well thought-out and develops through the film. Relationships evolve and change and we get to see what makes them tick.

The acting pedigree on display is breath-taking and they all make it look so easy. No-one wants to be over-shadowed by anyone else but, equally, no-one wants to be a camera-hog either. The whole endeavour has a bright, breezy feel to it.

Robert Redford with director Phil Alden Robinson on set for the comedy techno-thriller Sneakers Photo: UniversalRobert Redford with director Phil Alden Robinson on set for the comedy techno-thriller Sneakers Photo: Universal

Director Phil Alden Robinson, the man who gave us Field of Dreams, keeps things moving at a sharp pace and mixes action, plot and comedy very nicely.

Redford as Martin Bishop exudes huge authority and plays well with former CIA man Sidney Poitier who becomes increasingly exasperated with Dan Ayckroyd’s arch conspiracy theorist and moon-landing denier while David Strathairn is wonderfully believable as the level-headed blind computer geek. Mary McDonnell is Redford’s love interest who gets roped into their maverick operation and Ben Kingsley, sporting a fetching pony-tail and ‘90s power suit, gets to chew some scenery while keeping the audience up to speed with what’s going on.

The only person sadly underused is River Phoenix who, in an underwritten part, at times, seems a little lost.

The comic highlight of the movie is Redford’s own version of a Cyrano de Bergerac style seduction when he has to seduce a mathematician’s mistress, having romantic dialogue whispered electronically in his ear by his team, who then decide to have a little fun at his expense.

This is an energetic, feelgood movie with genuine moments of tension and several genuine edge-of-the-seat thrills mixed in with the buddy comedy laughs. It sits very nicely alongside The Sting and Butch and Sundance in Redford’s feelgood canon. Sneakers can certainly hold its head up in such distinguished company.

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