Iain Softley is something of an underappreciated artist of film; he creates unusual yet fascinating, creative movies that manage to gain a cult following and more appreciation over time. That has been the case with such hidden underrated gems like Inkheart and Trap for Cinderella, and that is certainly the case with Hackers. The 1995 film is a great combination of technological wizardry, pure fun and good ol' fashioned cheese. A suspension of disbelief is definitely required, but it's an OTT, bizarre, yet massively entertaining experience.
It does an interesting job at exploring the underground culture of hackers, most notably in the younger generation as embodied by our central protagonists. We see how these aren't your typical cyber-terrorist stereotype, but instead are portrayed as being the underdogs in a controlling society where the law is against them constantly. These are youngsters that use swiftness of thought, as well as their intelligence, to trap a rival hacker known as The Plague while evading those who are misguidedly pursuing them throughout the film. These are fun-loving individuals who come with their own set of problems, most notably Dade (Miller), who has a criminal record due to hacking into the New York Exchange and causing a massive drop, as well as crashing 1,507 computer systems - all in a single day at eleven years old. He's been trying to make up for it since, while also pursuing a rivalry-cum-romance with Kate (Jolie). See, it also tackles some of the emotional issues and teenagers’ fantasies too!
There’s a stylised cyberpunk approach to its visuals, with its neon-drenched nightclubs, outrageous costume designs and its trippy CGI graphics, which all works well in the movie's favour and adds to its charm; making it feel distinctive enough to be its own entity, while separating it from other hacking-related films that have come before and after. The CGI itself is very creative, bringing the technological code of hacking to life, suggesting that what we're seeing is what they're seeing: the pieces of the puzzle coming together. Not to mention the soundtrack kicks ass. Simon Boswell combines the dramatic tribal rhythms with the pulsating electronica, as well as the hardcore, techno music of early pop groups like Prodigy and Orbital; the results speak for themselves.
The acting is incredibly overdone and the writing is over the top, but it manages to get away with it with style and aplomb. Jonny Lee Miller proves he's one of the most underrated talents of our generation, whilst the rest of the crew also shine. Renoly Santiago is loud and hilarious, and Matthew Lillard goes full-on bombastic and cartoonish (his performance as Cereal Killer makes Shaggy look understated!). However, making a real impression is a young Angelina Jolie at the beginning of her career, bringing a real rebellious, punk edge to her performance that makes her instantly stand out from the others.
One may criticise Hackers for being unreal, ridiculous or just too cheesy, but it stands as one of the most underrated gems to have come out of the 1990s. The performances are vibrant, the storytelling is kinetic and the visuals are something to behold. There's a new commentary included on the new Blu-ray release featuring director Iain Softley and esteemed film critic Mark Kermode (one of the film's defenders) and both give a very insightful discussion that's worth a listen.
HACKERS (1995) / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: IAIN SOFTLEY / SCREENPLAY: RAFAEL MOREU / STARRING: JONNY LEE MILLER, ANGELINA JOLIE, JESSE BRADFORD, FISHER STEVENS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW