Sneakers ★★★★★

I hosted a little viewing party of Sneakers yesterday (off of a LaserDisc, with a player bought especially for this occasion). At some point after the movie, which I was happy to see everyone enjoy, the conversation turned to inspiration. For some of us in the crowd this was a first viewing, but others – including me – have seen it many times since it first came out 20 years ago.

For me personally, it would be relatively easy to count off some of the most obvious bits: interest in cryptography and history of phreaking, even more appreciation for the Bay Area, crazy adventures chasing toy companies… but more interesting things lurk underneath.

This is a rare movie about technology that gets it right, being accessible for everyone and accurate enough not to offend people familiar with the subject matter. It entertains, but also quietly sneaks interesting things into your head – you can pick up a lot about asymmetric cryptography, counterintelligence, and social engineering (although you won’t ever hear them called that). Its archetypes of nerdiness, among them Misplaced Idealist (Cosmo) and Über Nerd (Werner), are spot on.

More impressively, Sneakers does it all with an aura of lightheartedness, sometimes even goofiness. It’s gripping, and fun, but never pretentious. Some movies just scream “Oscar Candidate,” with reverb worthy of a THX logo. This is almost the exact opposite, never consciously attempting to be a masterpiece, but just to entertain, tell a good story really well, and allow people who care to find more depth inside it.

Just as I was telling it to my friends, I realized that my own projects that I loved most were exactly like that. I will be lucky if I get a chance to tell more stories – through whatever means and in whatever media – just as well and with as much heart as Sneakers tells its own.

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