Spy capers are rarely as charming or as light on their feet as the 1992 film Sneakers. I’ll never understand why writer/director Phil Alden Robinson didn’t have a more prolific career (maybe he did lots of uncredited rewrites?) This is the guy who wrote All of Me for Carl Reiner, and then later went on to craft one of the finest American sports and family movies of all-time, with the utterly magical Field of Dreams. And then a few years later, he finally got his long gestating project, Sneakers, out to the public, a film he co-wrote with Walter Parkes and Lawrence Lasker (the duo behind WarGames). And despite the fact that the film was a box office hit and well received critically, he essentially fell of the movie planet, only directing 2002’s underrated The Sum of all Fears and episodes of the HBO program Band of Brothers before helming the (apparently) misbegotten Robin Williams starrer The Angriest Man in Brooklyn. He’s a smart filmmaker, typically attracted to classy material, and I’ll never get it why his output just ceased. In Sneakers, Robert Redford slyly played the leader of a team of security specialists who are drafted by the NSA to do some covert work for them, the catch being that Redford’s character has been on the run since 1969 for a politically motivated crime.
The cast in this movie is just…I’m not sure what the word is…it’s just really damn cool. Redford, Sidney Poitier, Dan Ackroyd, Ben Kingsley, Mary McDonnell, River Phoenix(!), and David Strathairn are all part of Redford’s crew, with Timothy Busfield(!) as one of the NSA agents who may have more up his sleeve than we first expect. The breezy style complimented the snappy screenplay, while Robinson’s graceful and stylish direction kept everything moving at a perfect hum. This is a film with multiple red herrings, Macguffins galore, and all sorts of shadowy spook-speak that all adds up to create a heady brew of sensible, intelligent excitement. James Horner’s playful score was one of his best, and John Lindley’s smooth cinematography added immeasurably to the proceedings. Sneakers is the sort of movie that gets lost over time, overshadowed by flashier tales of skullduggery with more lavish special effects and action set-pieces; it’s a true “thinking person’s action film,” and a further reminder that as a filmmaker, Phil Alden Robinson has been sorely missed.