SWIMMING WITH SHARKS, 1994
Starring Kevin Spacey, Frank Whaley, Michelle Forbes, Benicio Del Toro
Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey), a big time movie producer on the rise, hires young Guy (Frank Whaley) to be his assistant. Guy thinks he's finally hit the big time. But Buddy has other ideas. He torments Guy with petty requests and daily reamings for bringing him Equal instead of Sweet-N-Low. Guy decides that he is fed up with Buddy's torture and goes to Buddy's house and ties him up and begins on his revenge. Guy's lover, a script writer who has "screwed" her way to the top, is dragged into this. Guy tortures Buddy and then his lover arrives and the big ending occurs.
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For once this film did not cost me the usual £1 or £0.50 but it came free with a British newspaper. I admit that some newspapers who do this offer the most uninspiring of movies as ‘freebies’; dreadful flicks which no-one has ever head of and probably starring Pauly Shore. Having bought this newspaper some years ago, I decided to watch this movie. Oh, and how glad I was that I did. Kevin Spacey has always been a particular favourite actor of mine. Movies of his such as “K-Pax” and “Darrow” are, in my opinion, some of the finest examples of cinema ever witnessed. And here, in the form of “Swimming With Sharks”, we see yet another example of superb filmmaking.
Guy (Whaley) is innocent in every sense. Working for big-time movie mogul Buddy Ackerman (Spacey), he has been given the biggest shot any novice could ever ask for. Or so he thinks. An aspiring screenwriter, he sees this job as his chance to be the next Jack Warner. Boy, how he was wrong. Instead of being looked up as a potential great by his boss, Guy is simply taken advantage of and bullied by Buddy. Buddy by name, but no friend by nature. Buddy seems to take a sadistic joy in emotionally torturing Guy by asking him to do anything and everything for said boss. As any person in a similar situation will testify, every man has their breaking point. For Guy, will he ever reach that breaking point or not? Of course he does. Will I describe how? That would be telling but boy what joyous scenes they are.
Ever since I saw “K-Pax” many years ago, I have marvelled at the talent of Kevin Spacey. His versatile and obliviously fine acting talent is there for all to see, and here early on his career it is ever so present. Made just eight years after his initial role, his portrayal of Buddy is not exactly easy on the eyes. At no point do you sympathise for Buddy as he seems to get a mental erection from seeing Guy squirm after carrying out his tortuous tasks. Even towards the end of the movie, when you see the outcome of Guy exacting his revenge on Buddy, you do not place pity on Buddy as you know he has deserved it. Karma has certainly hit him with a soccer punch, and how we the audience glee in delight at what we see.
Not familiar with Whaley’s work before, I was most impressed by his performance here. Barely aged over thirty when this was made, his confident performance as the underdog achiever is simply marvellous. At the beginning of the movie, Guy is a nervous wreck who would allow a dog to crap on his face if Buddy said so. But, towards the conclusion of the movie, he would not allow this one bit. His skin seems to have grown just that bit tougher than before, and his personality is no longer a “yes sir” but more of a “screw you sir” character. The transformation is remarkable, and the sign of a fine actor. After the wrapping of this movie, Whaley has found further work in both television and films, and I congratulate him for it as a talent such as his requires work in order to demonstrate to the world that he has a skill and the world should see it.
The director George Huang is by no means an amateur when directing such serious action. If he was at the helm of steering a romantic movie with Hugh Grant trying to charm some buxom young woman into entering a marriage with him in Victorian England than the directing would be piss-easy. But here, the tension which builds up over the course of the movie due to Buddy’s incessant tormenting is unquestionably tense and is something which shouldn’t have been shot by a laymen. Huang is by no means the latter, and through effective camera direction and effective editing the conclusion of this emotional upheaval is dealt with maturely and professionally. I agree that before the concluding scenes the required level of direction is not that substantial but it is the conclusion where Huang really makes his name. Sadly, according to www.imdb.com Huang has failed to land himself a respected directing role since the release of “Swimming With Sharks” but even if he does not land himself another directing role as superb as this one at least he will be remembered for something.
Such amazing films do not come along this often, but when we see relatively unknown gems as this then what other treasures out there lay undiscovered?