Robert Redford leads a team of misfit electronic wizards to steal a mysterious black box from a cryptologist. They quickly learn that too many secrets is a dangerous thing.
The warehouse set that the characters are in having a party after getting the device is modeled on the set of the warehouse party in The Conversation.
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Plot Summary One night in the winter of 1969, two tech-savvy college students, Martin Brice and Cosmo, hacked some government accounts and started distributing the money as they saw fit. Their escapades didn't go unnoticed however, and soon the area is flooded with police and federal agents. Fortunately for Marty, he was chosen to get some pizza, enabling him to escape, leaving "Cosmo" to the mercy of the feds.
Two decades later, Marty is now the head of a team of expert thieves, paid by organizations to test their security systems. He is approached by some men claiming to be agents of the NSA who know of his criminal past and insist he help them obtain a mysterious black box that holds some sensitive information. The heist goes flawlessly, but Marty and his crew stumble on the true purpose of the box, a decoder of sorts that enables access to all manner of national secrets and accounts.
Turns out the men that hired him are not working for the NSA at all and they proceed to steal the box and frame Marty for the murder of a Russian ambassador. They are working for Marty's old friend "Cosmo", who is now a powerful security advisor for an extremely suspect organization masquerading as a toy company. Marty and his crew must sneak inside Playtronics headquarters and steal back the box, preventing its secrets from being misused by the embittered and insane Cosmo.
Themes At the cusp of the information boom of the nineties Sneakers plays much like a cautionary tale. Computer systems were in wide use and started guarding important system operations like airports and power grids. Sneakers tackles the issue of what were to happen if someone was able to break into these systems. No longer would you have to enter a building and tap into them manually but you could do it from a remote distance using nothing more than a phone line.
The film even opens with Marty and Cosmo, as college student, hacking systems and trying to change the world. They want to make the world a better place and with the information now available to them they are capable of changing the world. However, Cosmo is caught by the police and Marty's only escape is to change his name and disappear. He has to change his reality to escape.
Later in the film Cosmo talks about how the world runs on the perception of reality and not reality itself. The information that we all rely on can be changed by those with access molding reality however they see fit. The example given in the film is that if someone reports that a bank is financially shaky people withdraw their money making the bank financially shaky whether it was or not.
Naturally the film explores the ramifications of unfiltered access to important computer systems. With the line "Too Many Secrets" the audience is shown that limited access and unlimited access are both self fulfilling prophecies. With unlimited access there would be chaos but to restrict access gives power to a few.