Sneakers is a 1992 caper film directed by Phil Alden Robinson, written by Robinson, Walter Parkes, and Lawrence Lasker and starring Robert Redford, Dan Aykroyd, Ben Kingsley, Mary McDonnell, River Phoenix, Sidney Poitier, and David Strathairn. The film marks the second collaboration between Phoenix and Poitier (the first being Little Nikita in 1988).
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In 1969, Martin Brice and his friend Cosmo have broken into a university's computer and are now hacking into other computer networks. Martin leaves to get a pizza and witnesses the police enter the building and arrest Cosmo. Martin then goes on the run.
Twenty years later, Martin, now using the alias "Martin Bishop", runs a tiger team of security specialists who use unorthodox methods of testing physical and electronic security for companies in San Francisco. The team includes: Donald Crease, a former CIA officer and high-strung family man; Darryl "Mother" Roskow, a conspiracy theorist with unsurpassed technical skills and dexterity; Carl Arbogast, a young genius; and Erwin "Whistler" Emory, a blind phone phreak with an acute sense of hearing.
One day, Martin is approached by two National Security Agency officers, Dick Gordon and Buddy Wallace, who reveal they are aware of Martin's past and true identity. In exchange for clearing his record, as well as a sizable cash payment, they ask Martin to recover a "black box" decoder device that mathematician Dr. Gunter Janek has supposedly been developing for the Russian government under the guise of a company called "Setec Astronomy." Martin recruits his former girlfriend, Liz, a pianist/piano teacher who knows about his double life, to help. His team is ultimately successful in locating and retrieving the box.
Whistler becomes curious as to the box's function and begins to examine it with Mother and Carl's help. They learn that the box contains an advanced algorithm that can essentially break any encryption code, which they prove by breaking into the computer systems of the Federal Aviation Administration, the national power grid, and other heavily secured networks. At the same time, Martin and Liz, along with Crease and his wife, figure out while playing Scrabble that an anagram of "Setec Astronomy" is "too many secrets". Quickly realizing that any government in the world would kill to possess the box, Crease orders a lockdown of the building until they can return the device to the NSA. When Martin and Crease meet the agents to exchange the device, Crease discovers that Janek has been murdered, and interrupts the exchange. The two flee the scene, but only after an unknowing Martin had given the box to the men. They soon learn that Gordon and Wallace were never NSA agents, and that Janek was working on the box for the NSA. Martin turns to a friend from the Russian Consulate, Gregor, who is able to identify Gordon and Wallace as rogue agents. Before Gregor can reveal who they are working for, his limo is pulled over by fake FBI agents, who murder Gregor, and kidnap Martin, framing him for the crime.
Martin awakes in an office to find his old friend Cosmo, once thought to have died in prison, alive and well. Cosmo reveals that he developed ties with an organized crime family while incarcerated. Using his hacking skills for their benefit, their influence helped him escape prison and become quite wealthy. He goes on to reveal that he is behind the fake agents, and that he wants the box so that he can destabilize the world's economy, thus bringing about the total anarchy the two had believed in back in 1969. Cosmo offers Martin the chance to work with him, but Martin refuses. Bitter over being abandoned by Martin, Cosmo uses the black box to break into the FBI database and connect Martin's current alias with his real name, then has his men dump Martin in the city. Martin reunites with his crew and they relocate to Liz's apartment. They call the NSA using call routing to prevent tracing and offer to recover the box in exchange for amnesty. While discussing the situation with NSA supervisor Bernard Abbott, their location is almost traced and they decide to steal the box themselves to use as leverage, after they learn that Abbott cannot guarantee their safety without the box. With Whistler's help, Martin is able to recreate the route during his kidnapping to a toy company, which is a front for Cosmo's schemes. The team identifies Cosmo's office, its security features, and the route to enter it, through a neighboring office belonging to nerdy and straight-arrow toy designer Werner Brandes. To obtain the necessary vocal passkeys, the team convinces Liz to go on a rigged computer date with Brandes.
Eventually, Brandes becomes suspicious of Liz's actions, and brings her to Cosmo; when Liz offhandedly mentions her dissatisfaction with computer dating, Cosmo immediately suspects a plot, realizes Martin is up to something, and locks down the facility. 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, tells Cosmo that 1969 had been a prank rather than a cause, and departs. They are gone before Cosmo discovers that Martin has given him a duplicate box. When Martin and his team return to their offices, they are surrounded by armed NSA agents led by Abbott. Martin realizes that the box will only work on American encryption codes, and that the NSA wants it to spy on other U.S. agencies. Before Martin hands over the box, he asks that his record be cleared, and Abbott agrees. Martin prompts the other team members to demand their own personal desires, with Abbott ultimately unable to refuse. Crease get tickets for he and his wife to Portugal, Madrid, Athens and Tahiti. Mother gets a Winnebago with burgundy interior. Carl gets the telephone number of an attractive female NSA officer, and Whistler asks that the government make "peace on earth and goodwill to all men". The box is handed over, but after the agents leave, Martin reveals he took out the key processor that contains the critical algorithm, rendering it useless.
In a postscript, we find out somebody has used the processor to steal money from the Republican National Committee, driving it to bankruptcy, and used the stolen money to make massive anonymous donations to Amnesty International, Greenpeace and the United Negro College Fund.
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