Bang for your Buck
Review by Ross Anthony

High action, low substance.

The highlight of the film: A scene in which a hostage explodes while being rescued (some rescue huh?) and takes out several officers, vehicles and storefronts in the process. Of course it sounds horrific, but fortunately this is a movie (not reality) and we are spared the spewing of bloodied body parts. What we do see however, is one sweet piece of action filmmaking. Instead of using a motion picture camera, a string of still cameras (over 200) are mounted like Christmas tree lights across a rail ... each camera producing just one frame that when "animated" produces motion.

Cinematographer Paul Cameron explains this magnificent multi-camera array footage. "Our objective was to turn our shot into much more of a traditional dolly move, except that the camera would theoretically have to travel at about [300 mph] to cover our move, while rolling at 250fps, to capture the 1.5 seconds of screen time. So instead of merely circling the event, we were dollying by and through the event - even passing through half of a police car and the wall of a coffee shop - as cars and S.W.A.T. officers are thrown into the air, often right up and over the [virtual] camera [dollying past]." (Quote from the March issue of "American Cinematographer.")

"Swordfish" hosts a few other action sequences as well. The crowd roared as three men jump/slide down a steep cliff slope. At times the camera hops in front of the action giving the audience a ride for their money.

But "Swordfish" never really manages to squarely capture viewer sympathy. We watch, but aren't invested; we're the innocent bystanders ... those anonymous Americans John Travolta claims to be attempting to protect during his rampages of bullet spray and apparent blatant disregard for human life.

While Travolta's "guerilla-altruism" is quite tantalizing, "Swordfish" can't quite pull itself together in the in-betweens. Hugh Jackman is a fantastic actor, though the first half of this script is clearly written for a skinnier nerdier type ... hence some character/dialogue friction. After all, he's playing a computer geek. (BTW, if you haven't seen him in "X-Men" - you really should rent it!)

An edgy play of the WB logo in low-res de-tracked video opens the film. Sweet, but not relevant to this particular picture ... something computer-esque would have been more apropos. Speaking of which, the computer displays in this hacker-action flick could have been a few ticks of the processor keener.

Oh yes, of course, I forgot to mention, Halle's Berries are exposed for about one second. (Less screen time than the explosion scene, but at, quite likely, the same cost.)

  • Swordfish. Copyright © 2001. Rated R.
  • Starring John Travolta, Hug Jackman, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Vinnie Jones, Sam Shepard.
  • Directed by Dominic Sena.
  • Written by Skip Woods.
  • Produced by Joel Silver and Jonathan D. Krane at Village Roadshow/Silver/WB.


Copyright © 2001. Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit:

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 07:54:43 PDT