a critiQal film review Hackers (1995)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: After being banned from touching a computer until his 18th birthday, former child prodigy Dade Murphy (Miller) and his new-found friends discover a plot to unleash a dangerous computer virus that will cause untold ecologic disaster. Now, they must use their computer skills to find the evidence while being pursued by the Secret Service and the evil computer genius (Stevens) behind the virus.

759 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 47s)

While perusing NetFlix® instant queue the other day, I noticed a film I hadn’t heard of in years: Hackers.

I had seen Hackers years ago, and remember enjoying this early film from Angelina Jolie and Jonny Lee Miller. But would the years have been kind? Or have the technological advances in the past decade and a half rendered this film a relic?

Jonny Lee Miller, who would go on to Dracula 2000 (2000) and Aeon Flux (2005) before disappearing from the film world entirely, does a decent job in this first role to earn him star credit. Playing off of co-star Angelina Jolie (who he would later date), he does a good job of connecting with the audience. Viewers will stick around to see how his character makes it through, despite some plot flaws along the way.

Angelina Jolie, with her familiar tresses cut boyishly short, plays the female hacker role well. Whether she knows anything about computers or not, she does a good job of pretending she does. As expected, she plays right along with the other hackers with ease.

Other familiar faces among the hackers include Jesse Bradford ( Bring It On (2000)) and Matthew Lillard ( Scream (1996)). Jesse is fresh-faced enough he barely manages to play a believable teen. Matthew Lillard, on the other hand, showcases some of the screwball oddness that made him so perfect to play Shaggy in Scooby-Doo (2002). Also familiar is Marc Anthony, in a brief role as an FBI Agent and Lorraine Bracco (“The Sopranos” (TV)) as a member of the company where the attacks take place.

Fisher Stevens does a decent job portraying an egotistical hacker. But, when he tries to communicate to Miller and his friends, his lingo is a bit forced – and his skateboarding looks just plain awkward. Still, as the villain he does a decent job of becoming someone viewers won’t mind hating, and so plays his part well.

Back in 1995, identity theft wasn’t really making the news, and it shows from the script. While Miller and his friends continuously hack into things like TV stations to change programming, a contest soon arises on who can cause the most damage to an FBI Agent. No longer content with just sending a large order of pizzas to his door, they get him arrested for having too many parking tickets and even hack the social security administration to list him as deceased.

This may have seemed comical in the mid-90’s – and harmless pranks. But, with the rise of identity theft, these days it’s much more of a cause for concern for viewers. And the ease with which they can mess with the Agent’s life seems downright astonishing. At the same time, it’s frighteningly plausible.

That isn’t to say that Hackers portrays all computer hacking as non-threatening. Instead, it presents both a positive and negative. While messing with someone’s life is a mere game to these hackers, when their friends are accused of something they didn’t do it’s a different story. Then, it’s dire, and they suddenly go above and beyond to clear their hacker friends of the charges and put the real culprit in their place.

Unlike other computer hacker films, though, computer hacking is presented visually as gliding through a skyscraper filled landscape of data. Every computer shot looks more like some psychedelic experience than the actual binary code they are working their way through. It’s an interesting take on how to visualize computer hacking. It makes the movie much easier for even non-computer gurus to follow along with. It also has the added bonus of never making the computer hacking sequences feel dated.

Unfortunately, that can’t be said for the script. For example, at one point in the film they are oohing and aahing over Kate’s (Jolie) new laptop – complete with it’s 28.8K Modem. These days, with cable modems and T1 lines the norm, a 28.8K modem is exceedingly slow, making the movie seems even older than it’s 15 years. Thankfully, the laptops themselves are small and compact enough to pass muster still. But it’s lines like that popping up every so often that really show the film’s age.

While Hackers does feel a bit dated, and the current identity theft worries belie the humor in some of the hacking instances may subtract a bit from the fun. Watching these kids try to band together and take down the ego-maniacal Plague is still rather fun to watch, if more for the battle of wits than the technology. Plus, watching the one-upmanship between Jolie and Miller’s characters is an added bonus.

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