Sneakers Is a Masterpiece

Sneakers Paints a Surprisingly Unflattering Portrait of the ’60s Counterculture
Arts, entertainment, and more.
Sept. 11 2012 11:00 AM

Sneakers Is a Masterpiece

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

Wow, Dan Aykroyd can dance.

120907_CB_sneakercamera

John, you are so right that Sidney Poitier’s formal pronunciation of “Martin” is one of the film’s persistent charms. His Crease might be one of my favorite characters, too, though in thinking about it, I’m hard pressed to pick just one. When I think about my favorite aspects of the film, I keep coming back to its set pieces, the small, pleasurable scenes that are studded throughout.

Julia Turner Julia Turner

Julia Turner is the editor in chief of Slate and a regular on Slate's Culture Gabfest podcast.

I love the joyous dance-a-thon that takes place when the gang is celebrating their initial heist of the box, before they’ve figured out the extent of its powers. (Dan Aykroyd’s character Mother, in particular, has impressive moves—he spins Liz around with more fervor and dexterity than you’d expect from a wacko conspiracy theorist.) I also love the moment when Martin and Liz are about to be killed by Cosmo’s goon Wallace, and Martin shouts “Carl, now!” confusing the goon and prompting Carl to crash through the pasteboard ceiling from the air duct directly above them where he’s been hiding. Not to mention the scene when the blind Whistler must drive the getaway van, with guidance from Martin on a rooftop nearby.

(By the way, further evidence that Ron Rosenbaum’s 1971 “phone phreaks” article was an inspiration for Sneakers: The article also features a blind hacker with perfect pitch who figures out how to con Ma Bell by—you guessed it—whistling into the receiver. Rosenbaum confirms that Sneakers writer Lasker consulted him informally over dinner while developing the film.)

Advertisement

In the end, though, I think it’s the character of Marty that I love best. At the core of the film lies his struggle with his own past, and with the lefty political leanings that he has (mostly) left behind. The movie’s portrait of the ’60s counterculture is wildly unflattering, if you think about it. Cosmo’s “power-to-the-people” ethos has evolved into a megalomaniacal radicalism and a plot to destabilize the planet completely by eliminating all records of property and ownership. (Cosmo has something in common with this summer’s Batman villain, Bane.) But Marty’s idealism persists, as we learn in the closing credits, when the RNC declares itself suddenly out of money and Greenpeace and the United Negro College Fund report large anonymous donations. The Robin Hood of the Internet age keeps on keeping on.

As for my brass ring? I’d simply ask the NSA to ensure that moviegoers the world over recognize the greatness and the glory of Sneakers, finally hailing the film as the masterpiece that it is. Or if that’s too tricky to pull off, I’ll settle for peace on earth and goodwill toward men.

Cooty rat semen,

Julia

Also in Slate's celebration of the 20th anniversary of the movie Sneakers: Stephen Tobolowsky fondly recalls his role as Werner Brandes; Nicholas Britell explains what makes the film score so great; and Lowen Liu investigates how the movie's "Setec Astronomy" ended up on a black-ops uniform patch and also attempts to re-create one of the most memorable scenes.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.