Monday, September 7, 2015

Hackers - 1995

"Hackers" - 1995
Dir. by Iain Softley - 1 hr. 47 min.

Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

"Hackers" is a really weird movie.  That's probably the best thing it's got going for it.  It's really weird, it's a movie about a despised subculture, it doesn't even bother apologizing for that either.  At the time it came out, it didn't really have any stars in it (obviously Angelina Jolie blew the f up over time, and you can see why here, but some of the other actors have had decent careers as well), and movies could kind of tell where things were going with the entire "internet" thing, but nobody had a good idea of exactly what it was going to look like.  In fact, the "internet" at the time was pretty much the province of college students and government employees.  This is a pre-AOL free disk movie.  It's pre- everything that we all take for granted as part of our daily lives now, but it was trying to look forward a few years.

Hackers

Dade Murphy (Johnny Lee Miller) is a child prodigy at hacking, to the degree that he gets in a significant amount of legal trouble for messing with the stock market, and is banned from things like using touch-tone phones (Google it, youngster) until his 18th birthday.  Fast forward to his senior year of high school, and he and his mother are forced to move from Seattle to NYC, and he's got to fit into a new school.  Dade, or Zero Cool as he was once known, celebrates his 18th birthday by pulling an all-nighter and taking over a TV channel, before getting booted out of the system by another hacker named Acid Burn.  Meanwhile, at the school, he gets jerked around by a super-confident girl named Kate (Angelina Jolie), and some of the other hackers take note of his skills.  One of the low-level hackers, chain-smoking Joey (Jesse Bradford), breaks into a Gibson (Google it) and copies some garbage files, which contain proof of a worm (Google it) being used to scam a giant oil company out of a royal buttload of cash.  This also brings the attention of The Plague (Fisher Stevens), the oil company's hired hacker goon, who sets out to frame this batch of teenaged hackers for what will be a fairly significant crime.

Yes, "Hackers" 100% looks like a film from 1995.  There's no getting around it, but it's a fairly decent representation (visually) of the time and subculture.  But, to director Iain Softley's credit, he gives zero fucks about trying to represent what the actual world looked like at the time.  Everything is weird and custom and computery and neon and on wheels.  The batch of good guys rollerblade everywhere (which, thanks to the WTF interview with Josh Homme from a couple of years ago, is called "fruitbooting" in my head whenever I see it).  Even The Plague, middle-aged corporate hacker hoe, is first seen skateboarding into screen.  He even skateboards during a hand-off!

Mine!

Everyone in the movie dresses like there are no mirrors in this universe, which is why you just have to accept Matthew Lillard in pigtails, or Angelina Jolie's weird white leather biker outfit.  Basically, what you need to understand is that people dress here like Tank Girl, if Tank Girl lived in New York City.  And then there's the visual representation of hacking.  This film might have the best approach I've seen from this era; there are scenes of microchips as cities, everyone's hacker stuff is on the level of a 13 year old's aesthetic, and whenever anyone hacks into anything, they start tripping balls (if LSD caused mathematical equations and lines of code to swirl around one's head).

Dade is so high right now.

In fact, the best thing about "Hackers" is the director's insistence on visualizing anything that could potentially be boring.  Sure, the actors always look interested and involved instead of having that dead-eyed, slack-jawed, lightly-drooling look that comes from staring at a screen for hours, but this is a visually interesting (if dated) film, when it could have been about beige boxes and the consumption of Jolt Cola (Google it).  And there are no apologies for that, either.  There were no stars here, no one in the real world was going to sympathize with hackers because they were the scourge of the ongoing computerized revolution, so this film goes for broke over and over again on the visuals.  Nonetheless, this gets a little closer to the heart of the movement than anyone should have expected from a Hollywood film, and gives credence to the concerns of the kids involved.

"Hackers" pays more than lip service to the idea that the kids are going to be fine; The Plague is a semi-skilled sell-out (Google it), and his speeches about being cowboys with no loyalties don't resonate with the hacker crew; kids that fruitboot together stay together.  Even when the fix is in, they stay on point and get done what needs to get done, both to preserve their own freedom and to keep deliberate sabotage for profit from being the order of the day.  Even if some of the technobabble doesn't make any sense, and the visual metaphors aren't necessarily dead-on, they're still interesting enough not to lose me as a viewer.  And the idea that the government is clueless and manipulable resonates super hard.  And, if you needed another reason to check this out, Angelina Jolie.  This was a decent role for her, but it's also immediately clear that she's kind of too good for weird teenager movies about computer dorks with braids, but boy was I glad she was there.

3.5 / 5 - Streaming

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