on March 25, 2000
In an upscale neighborhood near Hollywood, a covered body on a stretcher is being removed from a house while a dismayed young man named Guy (Frank Whaley) looks on. Thus begins "Swimming With Sharks," a veritable survival guide for those who would venture into the cold and often dangerous waters of film making. Guy is a recent film school graduate who has landed a job at Keystone Pictures as the gofer assistant to none other than the legendary power player Buddy Ackerman (Played exuberantly by Kevin Spacey), one of the top producers at Keystone. Guy is replacing Rex (Benicio Del Toro) who is leaving to take a position at Paramount. During Guy's orientation on his first day, Rex tells him "This in not a business, this is show business. Punching below the belt in not only alright, it's rewarded," and with that, the tone is set for much of what follows. But not everything. Buddy, we quickly learn, is the boss nobody would ever want. At his best, he is unpleasant; at his worst, which is most of the time, he is abusive in the extreme. He seems to take perverse delight in assigning Catch-22 directives to his underlings (He tells Guy to hold his calls while he is in a meeting; when Guy doesn't put the calls through he is admonished for it). His most prolific tool of management is the beguiling phrase "Shut up, listen, and learn," which he applies frequently to the hapless Guy. Of course, there is only so much one man can take, and early on we realize that Guy is in the process of exacting his revenge. Through flashbacks the story unfolds, and Guy's motivation becomes crystal clear. A situation to which many can relate, it is readily understandable how he has arrived at the position in which he finds himself with Buddy, and when you realize that Guy has crossed that line beyond which there is no return it evokes that sense of loss one feels for the doomed, and you wonder why things have to be like this. In "Swimming With Sharks," writer and first time director George Huang serves up a delectable sampling of the smorgasbord that is Hollywood, complete with the bitters he adds to the twist at the end, which may leave you somewhat taken aback. The supporting cast includes Michelle Forbes (in a noteworthy turn as producer Dawn Lockard, who comes to Guy and Buddy's table at what can only be termed an inopportune juncture), T.E. Russell as Foster Kane, and Roy Dotrice as Cyrus Miles. To those who love movies, this film offers some insight into what it takes to bring those coveted images to the screen; but it is also an excursion into the dark side of Man's nature.
on June 21, 2005
Kevin Spacey. I'll write it again. Kevin Spacey. Whether he's playing Keiser Soze, a pyschopath in Seven, or an alien in K-PAX, any film he touches seems to sizzle. Swimming With Sharks is no exception; in fact, we get to see Kevin in a role that resembles the one he portrayed in Glengary Glen Ross, only magnified thirty of forty levels on the pompousity chart.
Frank Whaley plays his underling in the corporate world. You might remember him as the victim of Samuel L. Jacksons rant in Pulp Fiction right before he gets his head blown off or as the young kid from Field of Dreams - playing a young Burt Lancaster. Well, as goofy as it might sound, Whaley does a WONDERFUL job in Swimming With Sharks. You emphathize with his character, even when he turns from naive victim to unflinching nut-case at the end.
As for premise, Kevin Spacey plays a corporate boss who is showing his yes man, played by Whaley, the tricks to moving ahead. In the mean time, however, he does everything he can to make his employee's life a living hell, thus driving the young worker into......
The last segment of this film is the most amazing. I loved the twist. Many, I imagine, will not. The film quickly moves from humor to dark drama in a matter of minutes, and the twist may upset many, especially Spacey's delivery in the last clutch scenes.
This movie is basically the director's rant and rave come to full life. It's based on his own experience in the corporate world and be warned, untold buckets of foul language await you, so be ready.
Kevin Spacey has emerged as one of America's leading actors in the past few years: "Swimming With Sharks" is a delightful exhibition of his unique blend of sarcasm, viciousness, and versatility. Few characters could be as much fun for an actor to play as Barry Ackerman, the immoral, hedonistic, abuse-spewing film executive idealistic young Guy toils away for. Spacey takes obvious relish in lines such as "Her phone bills are more than your rent," "He's not dead; he's just . . . unavailable," and particularly, "If you were in my toilet, I wouldn't bother to flush you."
Guy, an idealistic young film graduate, has somehow landed one of the cream jobs in Hollywood as assistant to Ackerman. How he got the job is a mystery, as Guy seems to have no idea of what goes on in the movie business and has not met Ackerman before. Guy can speak movingly about the movies he watched in his youth -- maybe that's enough to become a mini-mogul in Hollywood these days. Michelle Forbes' Dawn, a producer, inexplicably falls for Guy, although we are supposed to believe that this beautiful, rich, powerful woman is attracted to Guy's honesty and naivete. Funny how those traits work on beautiful, rich, powerful women in the movies.
The movie bounces back and forth between Guy getting his revenge on Barry for the hell he's gone through as Barry's lackey and the flashback shots of Guy's humiliating experiences. Throughout the movie we are treated to little Hollywood inside jokes (for example, the "hot young director" in the movie is Foster Kane, the name of Orson Welles' infamous protagonist in "Citizen Kane"). An enjoyable trip through the dark side of the movie business, "Sharks" contains just enough reality to keep the more outlandish plot developments grounded. Not as savage as "In the Company of Men," and not as complex as "The Player," "Swimming With Shars" is nevertheless a solid ninety minutes that will sustain Kevin Spacey fans who have watched "The Usual Suspects," "Se7en," "American Beauty," or "Glengarry Glen Ross" too many times.
Be warned: the videotape is of poor quality and may wear out more quickly than other high-budget releases.
on January 6, 2000
I chanced upon this movie by accident. I rented it at Blockbuster because it starred Kevin Spacey and I think there was some comparison to Robert Altman's The Player, which I loved. I was unprepared for what I got. First, you have Spacey, my favorite actor currently working today in one of his most brilliant performances ever. I think his turn as Mel Proffit on Wiseguy is the only job he has done that I like better. Next, you have Frank Whaley, a talented young actor who slips between extremes of timid uncertainty at the beginning of his job with Buddy, to icy cool professionalism toward the end. He also shows a warm caring side with his girlfriend (played very smartly by the sexy Michelle Forbes) as well as a psychotic off the deep end side when he takes Spacey's character hostage. I loved it on first viewing. I found a used copy of it about a month later and purchased it immediately. I have watched this film about 25 times in the last 5 years, and it never gets old. It is fresh and blackly funny every time I watch it. One thing that I have noticed on many repeat viewings is that Spacey's Buddy Ackerman character is really a much nicer guy than he appears. It is my belief after viewing this film so many times that Buddy actually does care for Guy. You can see it in the little grins that he gives after he has reamed Guy out for something, and in the way that all of his advice is based on his own personal experience. I don't think that Buddy is lying when he tells Guy that after a year with him, Guy will be ready for anything. He is deliberately cruel in a very educational way. I believe that he is trying to get Guy to accept the realism of the terrible, unfair Hollywood system, and that he really does mean for Guy to follow in his footsteps, but is being intentionally brutal in an attempt to quickly teach Guy the lessons that it took Buddy himself 10 years to learn. I also think the ending is one of the most effective twists I have ever seen on film, and proves my point that Buddy actually does care about Guy and wants him to succeed.
This movie is a must see for anyone who is interested in the Hollywood studio system and wants to see a viciously funny black comedy. It is also highly recommended if you are a Kevin Spacey fan.
I'm really waiting to see a complete review of the quality on the DVD for this film before I go out and purchase it. This is definitely one of my top 10 favorite films of the last 5 or 6 years.
Buy it now and laugh yourself silly.
OK, OK, this was a well-written, good story with a surprise ending that you won't see coming (which is ALWAYS a plus), but I couldn't give it more than 3 stars because Kevin Spacey plays such a mean-spirited, HORRIBLE person that I could barely make it through. I know that is just my weird little "character flaw" and that many people will enjoy this movie. The acting is great (especially Kevin Spacey and the leading lady). Kevin Spacey plays the epitome of a Horrible Boss, and the kid who plays his Assistant is a good actor, too, but is just so dorky that I don't know if he's just an excellent actor playing a dork or not! The Assistant finally reaches his breaking point and the movie's climax leads to a fascinating, surprise ending.
on April 29, 2005
I honestly dont know where to begin when reviewing this movie.
Not only does it inspire, but it manages to capture the true essense of the real world - "Life is not a movie, everyone lies, good guys lose, and love, does not conquer all."
Kevin Spacey - need I say more, one of Hollywood's Greatest actors - a man who commits only to scripts that have touched him in some way. Combining his breath-taking performance with the terrific Frank Whaley, Spacey manages to inject sarcasm and humor in his own unique style.
I already own the previous DVD release of this movie and have watched it near 60 times.
Will I buy the new Special Edition DVD?
Damn right I will!!!
on February 12, 2001
George Huang's "Swimming With Sharks" is a scathing satire on the Hollywood industry about one guy who wants to get in, and the person he has to work with. That person who is essentially his only ticket in happens to be an incarnation of the devil himself. Frank Whaley is Guy, a recent film school grad who is more than eager to get into showbiz, his new boss is Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey, in a role that's better than Lester Burnham), an evil, manipulative, cold, and bitter two faced Hollywood player who is 98% evil and 2% good. "Swimming With Sharks" follows a year in the life of Guy as his spirit is destroyed by a man he fantasizes about murdering. It works on a 50/50 level with the comedic flashbacks to a dramatic story. Kevin Spacey chews every scene that he's in and Frank Whaley is the perfect foil as the naive lead character. Huang's script focuses on the complex relationship between these two men as the one above continually crushes his spirit...but with good reason. An underrated film that didn't even get a run in theaters, "Swimming With Sharks" is a truly original film that is actually based on director Huang's experience on the Hollywood ladder. One of Kevin Spacey's best films that goes in the ranks of "Seven", "The Usual Suspects", and "American Beauty".
I believe dark comedies are movies that offer humor and disturbing/dark themes, but ultimately still picks one over the other. For example, "The Royal Tenenbaums" plays with quirky characters and also unpleasant memories of a hurt family. In the end, it chose to be a heart-warming movie with a biting edge.
"Swimming With Sharks," an unforgettable satire of workplace politics, is a movie that is caught dead in the middle. You'd think that would be a sign of perfection, but it actually becomes a frustrating experience.
Guy (played by the underrated Frank Whaley) is a movie fanatic who wants to make it big in the industry, but is soon blindsided, then painfully enlightened, by executive boss Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey, who could not have done any better with this role). Along the way, he meets a cold writer/producer who at first condescends Guy, but then the two form a love relationship amidst the crazy politics.
The movie actually opens with Guy becoming fed up with Buddy's antics and hauntingly promises, "It's payback time.", and then chronicles both backward and forward.
I'll first address the movie's undeniable strengths. There are many lessons of life that will strike a hard, yet truthful, note. Ideas versus Reality, kissing ass-before-kicking it, the importance of learning one's true goals. You will not forget the philosphies that "Swimming With Sharks" presents to you. Whaley and Spacey are brilliant here. They have perfect timing with their dialogue and chemistry (if you can call this abusive relationship that), and don't wink to the camera or go insanely over-the-top.
Now for the faults. I actually don't mind the flashback technique that I usually dislike. It's definitely the correct approach for this movie. But huge contrast between the workplace insanity of the past and the torture/reflection sequences of the present are jarring. Maybe a man like Guy really would snap, but this is a painful contrast that is difficult to absorb. Now, I can forgive that because the ground-covered from the beginning to the end is supposed to be a long road-trip. But when Guy and Buddy bicker back-and-forth about the meaning of life, you'd wish they would both just shoot themselves and get it over with. Both are obviously troubled individuals, but enough is enough. "Swimming With Sharks" doesn't know when to let go because it's so hell-bent on getting the point across.
Strangely enough, the music is fitting, but also very annoying. The score has some monotonous rhythms that give a message reaffirming "This really is a dark movie!" I get it...enough already!
Maybe the perfectly-balanced dark comedy can't be made, because "Swimming With Sharks" is defintely the most middle-of-the-road I've ever seen. My conclusion regarding this dilemma is this: Perhaps this isn't the right topic to tackle. Movies and films possess such a knack for visual style and storytelling that maybe we don't need to "WATCH" this dark tale. Because movies require some degree of sympathy with the characters, and because "Swimming With Sharks" has so many unlikeable traits, maybe this one shouldn't have been about movies to begin with.
This movie acheives what it wants to, and is very well-made and has great acting. However, just because "Swimming With Sharks" accomplishes what it wants to do, doesn't mean that it's a rewarding experience. I think everyone should see this movie, but it's not a pleasant film.
on February 9, 2016
Kevin Spacey is excellent but this an old movie and just wasn't a good story line. Kevin Spacey did a lot of yelling as depicted, belittle the guy working for him. It was like a man's version of the movie "9 to 5" with Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin.
on January 24, 2012
Not entirely what you'd expect from the promo art, this strange hybrid of chilling suspense and black comedy bears a surprisingly deep, developed cast of characters and a bitter, intense message about the origins of a corporate monster. Kevin Spacey is at his usual best as the pompous, demeaning studio executive with a finger in every pie, while journeyman Frank Whaley (Brett from Pulp Fiction) overplays the wide-eyed, naive farmboy act as Spacey's hapless assistant at the edge. But while early scenes hint this is just another predictable, pull-for-the-little-man light comedy, the narrative's regular flashes forward in the timeline paint a larger, more sinister picture. When the dust settles, Spacey is revealed to be far more complicated and damaged than he lets on, Whaley has worked himself into a deep, dark pit of trouble and neither man is who they were at the outset. Bewildering at times due to the jolting changes in tone and atmosphere, it lingers with the viewer well after the credits have rolled.