Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sneakers, part 6

Scene 11: Partay
Part of the joy of Sneakers is that actors seem like they’re having a good time, and this is super-clear in the party scene that follows the successful heist. But even though the party is all about good times--which we see clearly in the montage where everyone gets a chance to dance with Liz--we get some heavy info in this scene.

For instance: what happened to Cosmo? Even though Martin Bishop (nee Brice) has already confessed to abandoning his friend to the Feds, he only tells us the rest of the story now, which is that Cosmo died in prison.

For another instance, we get the oh-so-cliched “what are you going to do after...” round robin discussion, which we know best from war films (“What are you going to do after the war, Marty?” “I’m going to make love to my wife.” *bang* “They shot Marty!”), but which also pops up in cop films (“...after you retire, Marty?” “Sail around the world.” *bang* “Salazar killed Marty!”) and robber films (“...after the big score, Marty?” “Sail around the world and make love to my wife.” *bang* “I shot Marty, because I’m in love with his boat.”)

But the real heaviness of this scene is when Marty and Whistler, working apart, come to the same realization: this box that’s supposed to be able to break codes--it can really break codes! This probably shouldn’t be such a revelation, but the dynamic way it’s done really helps to emphasize the importance: while Marty rearranged Scrabble tiles for the black box project’s name, “SETEC Astronomy” (“cootys rat semen”), Whistler reads the hard-wired code of the black box’s microchip. The microchip is more important than the Scrabble tiles, but Scrabble tiles are more fun to watch, especially when they come back with the anagram, “Too many secrets,” which seems like it must mean something. So by running them in parallel, the movie makes us forget how boring it would be to watch a blind guy read code.

(What do you want to bet that there’s an earlier version of the script where “Too many secrets” was a fun phrase passed around by Marty and Cosmo? But they had to take it out to avoid revealing too early that the real nemesis here is Cosmo.)

Once they discover the power of the box, Don Crease understands that any government in the world would kill for this box and everyone needs to stay right here. (Except for his family, whom he sends home; since he knows he’s not the protagonist, he rightly assumes that they’re not going to become hostages.)

So a scene that begins with everyone dancing together, ends with everyone uncomfortably sleeping in the same office because they can’t trust anyone. Another quick reversal.

Scene 12: The handoff
The next scene is when Marty and Crease go to give the black box to the NSA agents. Here’s another reversal: they can’t wait to get rid of the black box that they worked hard to get. Weirdly, the handoff takes place at an open-air cafe rather than the NSA office.

And Marty is about to get paid when Crease--hanging around by the car for some reason--notices the news that Janek was killed. Here’s a nice little bit of Notorious, where Crease has to get Marty away from the NSA agents without alerting the agents that something is up. (Why Crease is worried about these guys rather than the Russians might seem weird, if Eddie Jones wasn’t reaching into his briefcase in a really suspicious manner.)

So Marty and Crease leave the box, but escape with their lives, and go check on the NSA building, which is gone. Just to rub salt in Marty’s injury, the homeless beggar comes by again to complain that the government took his home, which suddenly has new meaning in this new context. If only Martin listened to him before!

In fact, there’s a lot of things that Martin should’ve done before, like check out the information on Janek and the NSA: his grant money wasn’t Russian, it was NSA; and the NSA office in California is in Los Angeles, not San Francisco. Post-Google, this would be unacceptable writing, but pre-Google, you can kind of get away with it.

So by the end of this twist, Marty suspects the Russians are behind the manipulation of his team and the murder of Janek, so he’ll go see Gregor. The zinger of this scene is that Marty prepares his gun before saying that he’s going to a concert. It’s an attention-getting line, a way to ratchet up the stress.

Because, sure, Marty got played here, but is there any reason he has to remain involved in this case? He’s not suspected of any crimes, he’s not threatened by anyone, he’s only lost a little time and money in pursuing this case. And really, for all my commentary on how he’s not making a killing in this line of work, he doesn’t have any subplot about why he needs a lot of money very soon. There’s no ticking clock here to make us anxious. But there is the mystery of who played Marty and the danger of that gun to rivet our attention.

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