Hackers (1995) Starring Jonny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, and Matthew Lillard. Written by Rafael Moreu. Directed by Iain Softley.
Perhaps what is most remarkable about Hackers is that it not only has young heroes and treats youth with reasonable respect, it is also great film-making. I Know What You Did Last Summer met the first two criteria but was often unintentionally funny. Young Guns, another breakthrough for youth, suffered cheesy dialogue and plotting.
Hackers is a beautifully crafted film: highly suspenseful, very funny, and also quite sexy (despite Angelina Jolie looking less attractive here than in other films).
More literal-minded viewers may be bothered by implausible images such as SWAT teams acting as though they expect armed resistance from computer nerds. But the film uses images symbolically.
The plot involves a group of high school hackers who get framed for creating a computer virus. The villain who frames them is an older hacker with a plot to steal millions from his employer.
As far as age-politics go, there are a few problems here. First, yeah it is a stereotype to depict youth as technological geniuses. It is the only stereotype about youth that is not negative, but it is as dishonest as most stereotypes. The young stars of the film, for example, actually had to be given special training just so they could sit at a computer and act like they know what they are doing.
Second, some of the teenaged characters are rather submissive. At one point, the heroes' scheme to outmaneuver their antagonists is delayed because a character is grounded by his mom. He never thinks to ignore her grounding.
On the other hand, this film deserves high marks for treating its young heroes seriously. They are able to challenge police and their older hacker nemesis without being rescued by adults or out-of-the-blue miracles.
The film also takes the protagonist (Miller) seriously as a person. He is not just there to fulfill the demands of the plot. He is a person we care about. Miller not only struggles to thwart the bad guys, he struggles to maintain his dignity, avenge insults, win the heart of a woman, and explore his level of loyalty to his friends and to his family.
Without undercutting suspense, the film offers many laughs. In one segment, two hackers compete to see who can better harass a square cop. The whole segment is one laugh after another as the hackers have the cop arrested, declared dead, and subjected to obscene phone calls after they plant his phone number in a porno magazine.
The film also offers sex appeal, though not necessarily where the filmmakers intended. Angelina Jolie offers brief partial nudity, but that is not what's sexy. Despite her silicone, Jolie's sexiest feature will always be the sexy look she can give when she wants to, and in Hackers, she gives what must be the sexiest look in motion picture history. (Unless the sexiest look in history is the one Jolie gives in Foxfire, or one she gives in the otherwise unwatchable Girl, Interrupted.)
Hackers is one of the few films that takes young audiences seriously, offering them everything a good film offers older movie-goers. The filmmakers put a lot of thought into it. The results are great.