Sneakers (1992)

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It is the 1960s. Two young hackers enjoy breaking into computer systems and diverting money from the rich, powerful and evil to the just and deserving. One gets caught and goes to jail, the other escapes.

In the 1990s, a brilliant mathematician devises an algorithm that can crack any computer code or encryption scheme. Who is employing him? Is it the bad guys? Imagine the secrets that they will be able to read with his creation.

The film wisely does not say just what is the basis of the algorithm because such an algorithm is most unlikely, to say the least (unless the codes actually in use are really bad). There are allusions to large prime numbers and one can imagine that perhaps he has found an efficient algorithm for the NPC problems, but science does not intrude far into typical Hollywood films and this one is no exception.

Robert Redford, the hacker who escaped, is now running a small firm of computer security consultants. This motley crew (a grubby five, if not a dirty dozen, each with a secret or a failing of some kind) is coerced into stealing the mathematician's black box. This is the main plot error from a scientific point of view: An algorithm is an algorithm is an algorithm. It is an intangible thing, not a black box, but the chase 'em and shoot 'em up genre needs a single tangible artifact that can be the object of the chase. A real algorithm is an idea in someone's head, the jottings on their note-pad, the computer program in their work-station. How can you chase an idea? Tell someone the idea, photocopy the notes or email the program and there are copies everywhere.

Anyway, the good guys steal the black box and hand it over to the other good guys who turn out to be bad guys and the action takes it from there.

The film makers could not make up their mind if the film was to be an action film, a comedy, a spoof, an episode of Mission Impossible or more than one of the above. It is a good but not great "boys action film" - and yes, there is a token girl.

From the Internet Movie Database:

Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Produced by: Universal Pictures [~MCA]
Martin Bishop/Martin Brice Robert Redford
Donald Crease Sidney Poitier
Erwin (Whistler) Emory David Strathairn
Mother Dan Ackroyd
Carl Abegast River Phoenix
Liz Mary McDonell
Cosmo Ben Kingsley
-- L.Allison, 1996
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