She’s not the only one I saw for the first time in Hackers, but she was the one who was most memorable to me (for obvious reasons – if not obvious, watch the video below). Also in this film are: Jonny Lee Miller before he became Sick Boy in Trainspotting and Sherlock Holmes in the TV show Elementary; Matthew Lillard before he became Stuart in Scream and Shaggy in the Scooby-Doo films; and Jesse Bradford before he was in Bring It On. Also watch for an early appearance of Felicity Huffman.
The film opens in the late 1980s with the trial of a hacker nicknamed Zero Cool who crashed over 1,500 systems in one day. As the judge reads out all of his crimes, the camera pans around and we finally see the criminal, Dade Murphy…an eleven year old boy. Until he turns 18 he is forbidden from using a computer or touch tone phone (probably only people my age remember “phreaking”).
The film then skips to the present day. Dade (Miller) and his divorced mother Lauren (Alberta Watson – La Femme Nikita TV show) have just moved to
. On his eighteenth birthday, while his mother has left for her job, Dade opens up a new laptop and finds a local TV station that is showing a movie he doesn’t like. He calls the station, fakes his way to getting access to their computer system (a very common method of hacking then), and proceeds to have the station switch to a movie he wants to see instead. He doesn’t get to enjoy it for long before he gets a message on his computer from someone named Acid Burn who had already hacked into the station prior to him and who was the one playing the prior movie. The two have a battle on their computers until Acid Burn succeeds in expelling Dade – now going by the handle of Crash Override. New York City
He enters school and meets Kate (Jolie), who is assigned to show him around to his classes. He immediately becomes a babbling idiot, but recovers somewhat. She drops him at his first class, and he discovers she is not in it. That night he hacks the school’s computer to change his schedule to line up with hers. Kate is not thrilled. She also played a prank on him that first day, so he continues to tweak her when he can.
Dade connects with the hacker subculture at the school and starts to make friends. Among the group are “Cereal Killer” (Lillard) and Joey (
Bradford). Dade goes to a party at one of their houses, but wanders off from the main room. He accidentally sees Kate bringing a boy into the room he is in. They start to make out, Dade is discovered, but just then the other hackers come in. They start a conversation and to Dade’s surprise Kate launches right into full-on “computerese” with them. It turns out she is Acid Burn. When he tells them he is Crash Override (keeping the notorious Zero Cool identity a secret) she is even more pissed off at him. A relationship that was a simmering diversion becomes a burning, obsessive competition.
Just prior to these reveals, Joey hacked a Gibson supercomputer (a reference to William Gibson whose writings this movie pays homage to) and downloaded a file. He doesn’t know what it is, but the Secret Service quickly descends on his home and arrests him. He managed to hide a copy of it, though. The group sets a competition between Dade and Kate to see who can do the best hack. Their target: the leader of the team who arrested Joey. At first it’s fun and games, but then they learn that things are a lot more serious.
The Gibson that was hacked belongs to an oil company. Their head of computer security is a former hacker nicknamed The Plague (Fisher Stevens). His assistant is Hal (a reference to the HAL9000 computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey), played by Penn Jillette. Yes, the guy from Penn and Teller. In the 90s he was almost as well known in computer circles for writing many knowledgeable articles on computers for major publications.
The Plague lets his company know that their system has been infected with a virus that will cause their oil tankers to capsize when it triggers. They’ve only got a few days before that trigger will be unleashed. That company is the one pushing the government to find the hacker. We know that Joey is innocent, though. So do his friends. Dade and Kate put aside their differences to work together to figure out what that file is that Joey downloaded. This brings them to the attention of The Plague. Will he want their help? Will he turn them in?
As I said at the top, the computer talk in this film is outdated. My only real complaint with this film is that even at the time the movie came to video it felt a little ham-handed. (It was also wrong when it was talking about the specs for the P6 chip that had actually not been released at the time the film came out, but that’s nitpicking.) The dialogue was just intended to convey that Kate’s laptop was the height of badass computing power.
Speaking of badass, Jolie definitely hit the ground running in establishing she was both sexy and tough with her character in this film. She sports a quasi-Romulan haircut in this film that both hits home with Star Trek fans, and also serves to emphasize her face, her eyes, and her soon to be famous lips. The chemistry between her and Miller was quite something both on and off screen. The two were married after this movie was filmed.
If you think the people who use computers are just nerds, and a movie attempting to make them look cool would be silly, then you should probably steer clear of this movie. For everyone else, especially fans of computers or cyberpunk writing, I highly recommend this film.
Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Note: the video below contains some scenes from Hackers with Angelina Jolie. The first one shows Kate casually retrieving the hidden disk from a boy’s bathroom. The woman who opens the door in the next scene is Dade’s mother. I love the little acknowledgment that she knows her son has been obsessing over a girl, even though he won’t admit it.
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