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Sneakers is a 1992 caper film directed by Phil Alden Robinson and written by Robinson, Walter F. Parkes and Lawrence Lasker. It was filmed in late 1991 and released in 1992.



Martin Brice (Robert Redford), a hacker, has kept to his assumed name of Martin Bishop after accidentally avoiding capture and imprisonment for his activities in 1969, a fate that had fallen on his friend Cosmo (Ben Kingsley). In the present, Martin runs a tiger team of "security specialists" that use unorthodox methods of testing physical and electronic security for companies in San Franciscomarker. The team includes Donald Crease (Sidney Poitier), a former CIA agent and a high-strung family man; "Mother" (Dan Aykroyd), a conspiracy theorist with unsurpassed technical skills and dexterity; Carl Arbogast (River Phoenix), a young genius; and Erwin 'Whistler' Emory (David Strathairn), a blind man with superb hearing. One day, Martin is approached by two National Security Agencymarker agents, Dick Gordon and Buddy Wallace (Timothy Busfield, Eddie Jones), who reveal they are aware of Martin's former life. In exchange for not incarcerating Martin, they ask Martin to recover a "black box" decoder device that mathematician Gunter Janek (Donal Logue) has been developing for the Russianmarker government under the guise of a company called "Setec Astronomy". Martin's team, along with the help of his former girlfriend, Liz (Mary McDonnell), is successful in retrieving the box, appearing as an answering machine.

As the team celebrates, they become curious to the box's function and begin to probe it. They learn that the box is a universal decryption device, allowing them to access any system in the world, as hinted by the anagram of "Setec Astronomy", "Too many secrets". Martin orders a lockdown until they can return the device to the NSA the next day. When Martin and Donald meet the agents to exchange the device, Donald discovers that Janek was murdered, and warns Martin off after he makes the exchange. The team soon learns that Gordon and Wallace were never NSA agents, and that Janek himself was working on the box for the NSA. Martin turns to a friend from the Russian consul, Gregor, who is able to identify Gordon and Wallace as rogue agents. Before Gregor can reveal more, the two are caught by fake FBImarker agents, who murder Gregor and frame Martin for it, and then kidnap Martin.

Martin awakes in an unknown location to find his aged friend Cosmo. Cosmo, bitter over being abandoned by Martin, reveals that he developed ties with an organized crime family while incarcerated, using his hacking skills for their benefit, and has been able to escape prison, and is now planning to use the black box to destabilize the world's economy. Cosmo offers Martin the chance to work with him towards this end, but Martin refuses. Cosmo, in turn, uses the black box to connect Martin's past with his present identity in police records, and then has his men take Martin back to the city. Martin reunits with his crew and has them relocate to Liz' apartment. There, they call the NSA using complex call routing to prevent tracing and offer to recover the box in exchange for amnesty, which is agreed to. With Whistler's help, Martin is able to recreate the route during his kidnapping to a toy company, a front for Cosmo. The team identifies Cosmo's office, its security features, and the route to enter it, through the neighboring office of Werner Brandes (Stephen Tobolowsky). To obtain the necessary vocal passkeys, the team convinces Liz to go on a rigged computer date with Brandes.

Though most of the plan proceeds without a hitch, Brandes becomes suspect of Liz' actions, and brings her to Cosmo, who seems ready to ignore Brandes' story. However, when Liz mentions the computer date, Cosmo believes Martin is at work, and locks down the facility, trapping the team, and then discovers the box missing. Cosmo tracks Martin to the building's rooftop where the rest of the team is escaping, and demands the box at gunpoint. Martin reluctantly hands over the box, and departs with the rest of the team, but they are long gone before Cosmo discovers that Martin has given him an ordinary answering machine. When Martin and his team return to their offices the next day, they are surrounded by NSA agents, who demand the box. Before Martin hands it over, he ask that his record be cleared, which the agents agree to. Martin prompts the other team members to realize that the NSA will yield to any request to get the box, and they each request own personal desires, the NSA agent unable to refuse. The box is handed over, but after the agents leave, Martin reveals he took out the key processor from the device, rendering it useless.

The last scene is a television news report: the reporter announces that the Republican National Committee has misplaced its funds and entered bankruptcy, while, simultaneously, Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and The United Negro College Fund are seeing record earnings, "due mostly to large, anonymous donations."


Domestic Foreign Worldwide Total
$51,432,691 $53,800,000 $105,232,691


According to the filmmakers' DVD commentary,
  • "Setec Astronomy" was a real program the NSA was funding at the time of filming.
  • One of the movie's researcher's name was Bob Abbott, sharing the same last name as the movie's NSA agent Bernard Abbott.
  • An early draft of the film for Cosmo's secret office was conceived as a floating casino. The writers scrapped the idea, finding it too "James Bond-ish".
  • The final scene was re-shot for "about seven dollars", re-involving Schenectady, NY news anchor Ernie Tetrault from earlier in the film, who had reported on Bishop's friend Greg and mathematician Janek's deaths. After writer Walter Parkes faxed the monologue to Tetrault, he filmed the closing sequence after the local 11 o'clock news that night and sent it back to the filmmaker.

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