Act 3: From low point to conclusion
For David Mamet, the acts can be broken down into (1) “Once upon a time,” (2) “Then one day,” and (3) “But there was one thing they all forgot.”
So in Sneakers, we could sum up the acts thus:
(1) Once upon a time, there was a hacker/heist (or, yech, “tiger”) team led by a rogue with a secret;
(2) Then one day, his secret caught up to him and he heisted a code-breaker box--but it was all a trick set up by the enemy that used to be his friend;
(3) But there was one thing they all forgot, which is that... Well, how does Marty get up from rock bottom?
Scene 15: With a little help from his friends
Marty wanders the city streets alone for all of one shot before he knocks on Liz’s door. Instead of slamming the door on the ex-boyfriend who (a) used her pointlessly (did she really need to go to the Janek lecture?), (b) ignored her (letting her take a cab home alone so he could go surveil Janek), and then (c) expressed distrust (not letting her leave after the party), Liz opens her door to Marty and starts cleaning his wounds.
Like in Indecent Proposal, the casting of Robert Redford seems to make this go a little too smoothly. Who needs a million dollars to sleep with Robert Redford? Who wouldn’t open their door to Robert Redford in need?
Liz does more than just open her door to Marty. When Marty says “I can’t do this alone,” he doesn’t sweep Liz into her arms--he calls his boys’ club, who all come over to make Liz’s home into their new HQ.
So when Marty needs to make a call to the NSA to confess what he knows, Whistler bounces the signal around to make it harder to trace and Mother creates a “voice-stress analyzer” to tell if the NSA agent is lying. Here we get our first, honest-to-god, ticking clock scenario, as Marty tries to get answers from the NSA before they can trace the call. It’s a pretty thrilling scene, even if the stakes aren’t really clear. That is, if Marty gets taken in by the NSA and cooperates to take down Cosmo, what’s the worst that could happen to him? Well, for Marty, the worst is that he would be even more firmly in the system.
Since the NSA can’t help them, Marty will have to do this by himself. And when I say “by himself,” I mean surrounded by his intelligent and skillful friends. So how do they find Cosmo? Using Whistler’s excellent sound system, they reconstruct the path that Martin took while being in the trunk of the car. (No real worries about how long he was unconscious. I think if you made this film today, you’d just put a black hood on him. Ah, the changing fashions of kidnapping.)
There’s another “aha” moment here, those little moments that help to propel the film by giving the character’s small tasks to complete, often with some fun leap of logic. Here, Martin claims to have heard a cocktail party, which turns out to have been the ducks/geese at the reservoir.
Having tracked down Cosmo to an electronic toy company called PlayTronics, now the real heist begins. And we can also finish our Mamet breakdown of the acts: Act 3 is “But there was one thing they forgot, which is that Marty had a skilled heist team to help him recover the box and get him out of the system.”