Scene 19: Darth NSA
A successful heist should be followed by a party, but the NSA decides to crash Marty’s team’s HQ. (Reversal #1 for this scene: success turned into arrest.) You might ask yourself how they found Marty’s HQ or why Marty, after deciding that the HQ was no longer safe in scene 12, decided to go back. I mean, you’ve just fooled a Mafia IT specialist who knows where your HQ is--maybe you should think twice about going back there.
But no, Marty goes back and walks right into James Earl Jones’s arms. Consider this revenge, a long time coming, for that joke Cosmo made in the prologue about getting his pizza shaken, not stirred; it’s as if the NSA said, “You think you can crash our party? We’ll crash yours.”
Abbott (Jones) wants the box, even though (a) the box would only be good to spy on Americans and the other agencies, since the other countries’ codes are all too different (as Gregor noted) and (b) Marty tells him the box doesn’t work.
Instead of just taking the box and killing or arresting all of Marty’s team for their illegal activity, Abbott gets suckered into negotiating with them, since the NSA doesn’t want anyone to know they have a non-working box that would help them spy on Americans. (Reversal #2 for this scene: arrest turned into negotiation.)
Yeah, that doesn’t entirely make sense, and yes, the US government gets accused of a lot of things--it’s not like Marty’s team would have evidence to back up their claim, so it’s hard to see how Newsweek would be interested in that story. But a lot of this is fridge logic, the kind of thing that bothers you after the movie is over. In the scene, all we know is that Marty and Abbott are rapidly changing position as the powerful one in the scene.
As with the party scene, which this scene echoes, everyone again reiterates what they want: Crease gets his vacation with his wife; Mother gets his Winnebago; Marty gets his record cleaned; Whistler gets to express his wish for peace on Earth (Abbott: “We are the United States Government. We don't do that sort of thing.”); and Carl gets the phone number of the young lady with the Uzi (oh, River). Liz says she doesn’t need anything, which is simple code for “Robert Redford and I are going to go have sex.”
The NSA leaves with the box that supposedly doesn’t work, and now we see why it won’t work. Marty pulled the same sort of trick on the NSA that he pulled on Cosmo--he kept the code-breaker chip for himself and gave them an empty shell. (Reversal #3!)
Which explains the final news report that tells us that the GOP is broke, but Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and the United Negro College Fund are all recipients of large, anonymous donations. So, sure, maybe Marty and Cosmo were just pulling pranks, but pranks are fun, even for an adult male who (we presume) is also having sex on the side. In his little way, Marty still doesn't fully belong to the system.
Which is a happy ending all around: They all got what they wanted; they foiled both the bad bad guys (Cosmo) and the bad good guys (the NSA); no one suspects that they’ve got a code-breaker chip that others would kill for; and Marty fights on in little ways for a better, GOP-free future.
So what do we learn about scene construction and script structure from Sneakers?