Friday, January 11, 2013

Sneakers, part 3

Act 2: From accepting adventure to the low point
(There are a few ways to break up a movie into acts, so to be completely transparent about that I'm labeling the acts with my quick way of understanding them: Act I is life as we know it, which ends when the protagonist makes the fateful (and irreversible) decision to go on with the adventure, which begins Act II. If that's confusing, it will all make sense at the end.)

Scene 5: Assembling the team
In your classic heist film, this is the part where the leader assembles his ragtag team of experts, but Martin already has his team (almost). So how do you assemble a team that's already assembled?

That should raise some red flags and raise them high for a whole genre of movies: ever notice how loner hackers in films are rarely ever loners? Both Hackers and Sneakers give away this plurality in their titles, and while the good guy in The Net is alone, the evil net is--do I really have to finish this sentence?--a network of multiple people.

So the “assembling the team” scenes makes some crucial changes from the classic form: not many scenes (one for each expert), but one big scene where Marty confesses his Secret Shame. There’s no real doubt that the team will go along with this, so thankfully the scene doesn’t go on long.

And it ends with a fun, big reaction shot of the whole group, of which this film has several. That is, Martin adds at the end that he’s going to recruit Liz and everyone looks at him like he’s nuts. It’s a cute shot to see them all look at him that way; it’s a reminder of how cohesive this team really is; and it’s a nice segue to meeting Liz. What is she going to be like, a fire-breathing monster, an adventurous trouble-maker, an unreconstructed hippie punk?

Scene 6: Assembling the team, part 2
Of course, she’s none of those things: she’s a proper and playful woman who we first see at a piano, as we hear wonderful music. In one of the tiny little twists the movie delights in, Liz isn’t the one playing--she’s just teaching the tiny Asian girl who is already quite good.

Liz (Mary McDonnell) has such transition 80s-90s hair that it’s hard for me to take her seriously, especially when she's a music teacher who reads abstruse mathematical papers on the side. (Given the apartment that we see later, I can only assume that she's a wealthy heiress who teaches music for fun.) Yes, music and math are related, but everything together makes her scream “plot point” rather than “real person,” especially when she
’s given lines like “we’re not getting back together.” Let’s be clear, when someone says “we’re not getting back together” to Robert Redford it tells us two things: they were together once; and they’re going to get back together.

Liz does nicely point out that what Martin has isn’t a business but a boys’ club, a nice echo of the secretary’s put-down from scene 2 about this job not being much of a living. Put another way: Martin Bishop needs to grow up and get real (say the women of the world).

I want to say something like “It’s almost as if abandoning his first life when young has stunted Martin’s emotional growth,” but the film doesn’t really make much of that. Martin isn’t some adolescent who can’t get along with other people and broods all the time. (Or am I revealing too much of my teenage/college years?) I can imagine a darker version of this movie that took this path, but this film is a light-hearted caper, starring Robert freaking Redford. Do you want to see Robert Redford play a maladjusted, immature middle-aged man? (Now Patton Oswalt would be pretty killer in the role of the maladjusted hacker leader.)

So this version of Marty isn’t a flaw in the movie, it’s just a note about a different way the film could have gone. And here’s more evidence that this Marty isn’t so immature: he got close enough with Liz to tell her about his Secret Shame, which he uses now to convince her to help him. In scene 5, Don Crease argues that partners are supposed to tell each other secrets, which may not be true of business partners, but was definitely true of Marty and Liz as romantic partners.

(Although we know that Marty and Liz are close and probably going to get back together after the end of the film, the film never shows them in any intimate way, which might be the most immature thing about Marty/the film. Sex exists in this world, but mostly as a joke.)

No comments:

Post a Comment