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Movie Review


MPAA Rating: R for violence, language and some sexuality/nudity

Reviewed by: Dr. Kenneth R. Morefield

Extremely Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Thriller / Action
1 hr. 39 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
Relevant Issues

What’s wrong with being manipulated to want the villain to succeed, in spite of his evil?

What is goodness and righteousness?

sin and the Bible

fall of man to sin

Do Not Enter

rape victims’ stories

shame and rape

Featuring: Starring: John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle and Vinnie Jones
Director: Dominic Sena
Producer: Joel Silver, Jonathan D. Krane, Jonathan Krane and Steve Richards
Distributor: _____

There is a scene about a third of the way through “Swordfish” in which the protagonist is held at gun point by a character while being raped by his accomplice in front of a room full of amused spectators. The fact that the character being raped is male and that the sex is oral somehow made it not only okay with the audience I watched the film with (in a north Philadelphia mall theater) but vaguely exciting as well. Don’t let the silly storyline about hacking into computers to steal government DEA sting money fool you—this movie is essentially a male rape fantasy constructed for the purpose of getting us to that scene and another in which Halle Berry bares her breasts. The fact that nobody is shown “doing it” just makes it soft porn instead of hard core.

Scene from “Swordish”

The scene in question revolves around Hugh Jackman’s Stanley Jobson, an elite computer hacker who agrees to meet with a criminal mastermind after being offered $10,000 just to listen to his offer. Berry’s Ginger is the messenger, and when she brings Jobson to Gabriel Shear’s party, Shear holds Jobson at gunpoint while his henchman pull down Jobson’s pants, stick a laptop in front of him, and tell him to hack the pentagon in sixty seconds while getting oral sex or he will be killed. The movie wants somehow to imply that this is just as demeaning to Jobson as it is to the nameless, voiceless woman who is forced to publicly service him, because neither had a choice, but I wasn’t buying.

While both are powerless in the situation, one is being forced to do something that she (or the average woman) presumably does not want to do, while the other is having something done that he (or the average adolescent guy who is the target audience) wants done to him, albeit not under those particular circumstances. Yes, he is supposed to be scared that he is going to die, but the movie is winking the whole time—nobody in the theater seriously thought for a second that the lead was going to die twenty minutes into the film.

So, once you strip aside the bogus veneer the scene is essentially a Penthouse Forum mini-set piece for adolescent boys—imagine getting a free blow job from a gorgeous blonde without even having to ask for it and no fear of rejection! And what is the price he has to pay for such a fantasy? Well, first he throws up in the bathroom, and then he gets to play with a supercomputer with seven monitors. Poor guy. Perhaps it would be educational to show this scene back to back with the rape scene in “The Accused” (1988) in order to reinforce the message yet again: rape is not a crime of passion; it is a crime of violence. Or perhaps I am too optimistic in hoping that a significant portion of our sex crazed population would notice (or care about) the difference.

The rape scene is a metaphor for the movie’s moral stance overall. For those who think I am reading the titillation motive into it, I would direct you to the opening scene. Here Travolta’s Shear has a long monologue about how people really want to see movies in which the bad guy gets away with it. “Swordfish” thinks it is being clever here, laying bare the device in a very postmodern way (“See! See! Our art is self-referential! We are doing what we are talking about! The characters seem to be talking about ‘Dog Day Afternoon,’ but they are really providing commentary on what we are doing.”) While the film thinks it is superclever in its analysis of American culture’s desires and its own ability to pander to them, it is wrong on three pretty obvious counts:

  1. It thinks that the “wanting the bad guy to get away with it insight” is profound and new, when, in fact, it is a cliché.

  2. It doesn’t even explore the cliché, it simply references it to attempt to cover what it is really doing. We are not rooting for Travolta to get away with it, we are rooting for Jackman. But since the hero is under the power of someone else, he is free to do all the things he (or we) might be tempted to do in normal life, without having to bear the moral responsibility of having chosen to do them. At least “Fight Club” had the courage to really explore the dominant bad guy/weaker protagonist tension, rather than just exploit it.

  3. The film neglects that in the most prominent examples where the audience has conflicted feelings and may want the villain to succeed, it is often in spite of his evil, not because of it. Films such as “The Godfather,” “A Simple Plan” or even the referenced “Dog Day Afternoon” humanize the characters that do evil by showing us the good in the worst of us and the bad in the best of us. In short they avoid the type of moral polarization and scapegoating that “Swordfish” relies upon. it’s not about wanting Travolta to get away with his crime, it’s about wanting Travolta to get away with just enough of it that Jackman can have his flirtation with his seamy side, yet retain his metaphorical (if not actual) virginity. And that’s what I call a “moral rape” fantasy.

I can’t give “Swordfish” an “F” because, quite frankly, it is a well made movie from a technical standpoint. The special effects and set chases are well done and effective. I’ve said I don’t like what the film does, but I have to admit that it does it very well. Those who have no moral objections to the ideas championed in the film will find it to be a fast, loud, glossy action thriller. “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” My Grade: D-

Viewer Comments
I went to this movie with my husband thinking that we are fans of John Travolta and hoping for the best. I was totally disappointed by what they (meaning the writers and directors) think is quality workmanship. I’ve never have been more disappointed with John Travolta. He has a choice to make a movie that could be life changing and he chose this? I recommend not going to see this movie, it gets a 3 thumbs down in my eyes, I’m just sorry I spent hard earned money to see it!
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive / 2]
—Denise A., age 46
This is definitely a movie to avoid. Not only was it extremely offensive, but it also had poor dialogue between violent special effects. As for Halle Berry, I cannot believe she passes for an actress. Obviously, she was given the role for reasons other than her acting ability. I am embarrassed to say I ever stepped foot in the theatre.
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive / 1½]
—TJ, age 34
DO NOT GO SEE THIS MOVIE! My brother-in-law and I went to see this since our wives were out of town and we were bored. It looked like a cool action flick. Instead, it was a monument to all the things Hollywood is “allowed” to do on screen. The ACLU would be proud, but I am glad to say that after 20 minutes and the much-mentioned oral sex scene, we bailed and went to Tomb Raider. While Tomb Raider is no cinematic masterpiece, it’s got good action, and Angelina Jolie manages to maintain a modicum of modesty and all of her decency—no sex at all.
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive / 3]
—Thomas Quinlen, age 27
My sister and I went to this movie because it looked cool and had some good actors. I thought the language could have been toned down and so could the scene when Halle Barry was sunbathing topless (she was paid $500,000 extra just for that scene. The violence was pretty graphic in some place such as when a women is blown to bits. I give this movie a Very Offensive/4½ because of the profanity and the nudity. It was very well made and I enjoyed it very much except for the things I mentioned above.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 4½]
My sister and I went to see this movie in support of one of my family’s favorite actors, Hugh Jackman. As I left, I thought that yes, he did a good job. He acted well, he was convincing, and he even did make me say there was one redeeming factor in the movie. However, other than the pleasure of watching Hugh Jackman act for well over an hour, there was nothing good about this movie. It was just topless girls and things blowing up. The majority of girls in this almost entirely male cast end up removing their clothes before the end of the movie. I often enjoy movies other Christians find offensive, but this one was just too much. I think what pushed it over the top was the pointless nature of the nudity and sexual content.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 3]
—Liz, age 18, non-Christian
Christians should not go see this film! I felt thoroughly ashamed walking out of it and had to look away from the screen a few times. Even my secular friends who dragged me to this movie came out feeling soiled. The action is pretty good and typical for the movie, but the sex and nudity scenes are thrown in just for show and do nothing for the plot. Not only that they are extremely offensive to women, by showing them as property to be used for sexual exploitation. The language is over the top with extreme profanity, once again doing nothing for the plot. The only decent acting was done by Hugh Jackman and it was nowhere near enough to carry the rest of the film. Once again this movie should be avoided as the morality of the film is in the toilet, the acting and plot are lame, and the FX do not make up for anything in this film.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 3½]
—Jeff, age 27
A girl in this film dresses in very showy clothes and makes it a point to bend over in front of the camera several times. A man’s ex-wife tells him that if he approaches their daughter then she will hire men to rape him. A woman performs an oral sex act on a man, ladies wear their underwear for swimsuits, a girl grabs a man in the crotch and then comments on erections, the female lead character is also shown in her underwear and fully topless in front of the camera several times, there are statements concerning masturbation and pornographic “art.” This film was disgusting and hardly recommendable for any person.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 2]
—K.E., age Teen
it’s got a great plot… but that about the only good thing I can say about this movie, it had tons of profanity and a few sexual/nude scenes. What I don’t understand is why Hollywood has to put that kind of stuff in the movies, cuz it did absolutely nothing to enhance the plot or the storytelling. I don’t recommend this movie to anyone. I feel ashamed to even see this.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 3½]
—James, age 19
I went to see this movie expecting something along the lines of Antitrust. The film doesn’t have much computer-related material. There is a *lot* of profanity (even in song lyrics), sex acts, nudity, violence and the use of the Lord’s name in vain. I wish I read the reviews on this site prior to buying the ticket. This film is *extremely* offensive and totally inappropriate to children and even teens.
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive / 3]
Movie Critics
…a screaming hostage and city block are brilliantly (no other word seems appropriate) blown to smithereens during the lead-in…
—David Hunter, Hollywood Reporter
…On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Swordfish” blasts in with an intense, action-packed, fast-paced 7. it’s a dynamite thriller!
—Susan Granger,
…Profanity is rated as extreme due to the use of at least 28 “f” words and various other expletives…
…Parents should know that this is a true R movie with very strong language, nudity, sexual references and situations (including using a woman like property and ordering her to service Stanley sexually in front of other people), and a lot of violence. Many people are killed and there is an extended close-up of a grisly corpse…
—Movie Mom