Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Vinnie Jones, Sam Shepard
Director: Dominic Sena
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 99 Minutes
Release Date: October 30, 2001

“You know what the problem with Hollywood is…they make s**t, unbelievable, unremarkable s**t. Now I’m not some grungy wannabe filmmaker that’s searching for existentialism through a haze of bong smoke or something. It’s easy to pick apart bad acting, short-sided directing, and some purely moronically stringed-together words that many of the studios term as pros. No, I’m talking about the lack of realism…realism. Not a pervasive element in today’s modern cinematic vision.”

Film ****

God bless John Travolta, one of my all time favorite movie icons, who is proven to be the king of comebacks. You’ll recall his triumphant comeback in 1994 with the monumental classic Pulp Fiction, which prior to that was the actor rarely seen in anything worthy of his amazing talent. This comeback led to a list of outstanding work including Get Shorty, Phenomenon, Face/Off, and The General’s Daughter. Cut to 2000, which saw the release of two consecutive critical and box office failures, the wretched sci-fi debacle Battlefield Earth and the underrated, unfairly panned comedy Lucky Numbers. Travolta was in desperate need of yet another comeback feature, and he found it in 2001 with Swordfish, a truly remarkable action-packed adrenaline rush that actually finds the time to mix in a little originality. It’s not exactly a thought provoking piece, but with a running time of just over 90 minutes, it throws in everything but the kitchen sink in terms of addictive eye candy that is downright the best example of perfect summer entertainment. Not since Speed or even any of the Die Hard movies has a single motion picture given me a rush so incredible that I was dying to experience the ride again not long after my first viewing.

The movie begins by offering perhaps one of the single best opening moments in cinematic history. It opens up during the midst of a bank heist being masterminded by the Travolta character, who has laced up twenty-two hostages with vests of C4, along with stainless steel ball bearings. The scene results in a special effects shot so incredible and amazing, you are likely to press rewind after seeing it. The movie then cuts back to 4 days earlier, with the mysterious and sexy Ginger (Halle Berry) offering a once in a lifetime opportunity for ex-computer hacker Stanley Jobson (Hugh Jackman), who wants nothing more than custody of his daughter, now that his ex-wife is indulging in a life of pornography with her new husband. Ginger offers Stanley and easy $100,000 just to fly over to a meeting with her boss, the wealthy and powerful Gabriel Shear (Travolta), who leads a life that I’m sure anyone would want to lead; I know I would. He then promises Stanley a $10,000,000 payday if he’ll help him in breaking codes that will allow them to steal 9 billion in frozen government funds over the net. Stanley agrees to it, only because it may help him gain custody of his daughter.

Travolta is best known for being one of the more charismatic actors in the movies, and he proves once again in Swordfish that no other actor can portray villains that are both charming and menacing like he can. Following his villainous portrayals in Broken Arrow and Face/Off, Travolta ignites yet another memorably charming sinister villain in the role of Gabriel Shear, who throughout the movie, turns out to be more than he appears in terms of his motives and actions. You can’t help but give a chuckle hearing him say such things as, “Did you know that I can buy nuclear warheads for $40 million each? Hell, I could buy half a dozen and even get a discount.” Hugh Jackman, the Aussie Clint Eastwood, having just come off the success of X-Men, makes a very convincing protagonist, who’s constantly on edge throughout the entire movie, fearing going back to jail for hacking while stuck in a predicament he really has no way out of.

The action scenes in Swordfish are of such astonishing and adrenaline-pumping quality. That credit should go to none other than the movie’s director, Dominic Sena, who also directed the eye gazing, fast moving Gone in 60 Seconds. In addition to the standout effects sequence that opens the picture, there is also knockout high speed pursuit with Travolta blowing up pursuing cars with a monster-size machine gun, a foot chase that leads to a free-fall pursuit alongside a near-steep cliff, and finishing off the movie is a mind blowing chase scene where a bus containing the bank hostages eludes the cops by being lifted in the air by a helicopter. This five-minute sequence comes very close to making the entire chase in Speed pale in comparison. It is that enticing and intense.

Swordfish is a breakthrough masterpiece in the action genre, which is every so often reinvented by such films as Face/Off, Speed, and the Die Hard movies. By offering a sense of originality, poking fun at itself occasionally, giving us yet another masterful performance from John Travolta, and delivering moments of razor sharp dialogue, Swordfish begs to differ with the usual action fare, and it pulls it off gracefully and incredibly.

A final word of caution; this movie does contain themes of terrorism, and in the wake of the recent attacks on America, some viewers might find this a little too much to stomach. I felt since I love this movie as entertainment, I also have a responsibility to advise this.

Video ****

I’ve seen many a great transfer from Warner, but I am making it official right this instant, Swordfish is by far the studio’s most outstanding transfer since their triumphant release of The Matrix two years ago. First off, do not be fooled by the first few minutes of the movie, in which the Warner logo and opening credits appear in a look close to that of a video camera with questionable reception, this is clearly intended. Also, do not be fooled by the opening scene, with Travolta talking to the camera, where the background appears to be blurred out a little, it’s simply a visual gimmick. The picture is of the most ultimate sharp form I could ever hope for a single disc to be. Colors have never been more vibrant and alive on any single disc. These past couple months have shown some astonishing transfers, with such releases as Memento, Star Wars Episode 1, and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, and Swordfish is yet another entry in this amazing list of breakthrough video transfers, as well as the prestigious DMC Awards list for best video transfer.

Audio ****

If it’s a Warner release, and it involves action, you can bet on saying the word WOW at the end of the presentation, and I remember saying that a few times during the movie. The 5.1 Dolby Digital job results in Warner’s ultimately best sounding disc in a long time, ranking with such other releases as The Matrix, Three Kings, and more recently, Driven. When seeing this movie in the theater, I remember thinking to myself how amazing the special effects explosion would play out on DVD, and all I can say is, pump up the volume on your system when this scene kicks in, it is simply one for the senses. The rest of the film sounds amazing as well, complete with a techno score by Paul Oakenfeld (one of my personal favorites). This too, will definitely score high on the DMC awards chart in the audio field.

Features ****

Honestly, I’ve seen more loaded discs than this, but the features on this release are some of the best assembled, and serve the movie very well. Included is a terrific commentary from director from director Dominic Sena, who’s a remarkably insightful narrator, offering all that he can for every detail in the film. Also included are two documentaries, an HBO First Look featurette on the making of Swordfish and one entitled “The Effects in Focus”. Also featured are 2 alternate endings with optional director commentary, a trailer, and DVD-Rom content.


Swordfish is one of the best films of 2001. Dynamic, eye-popping, tension-filled, and simply a fun roller coaster ride of a movie going experience, this is one adrenaline rush that should not be passed up.