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Swimming with Sharks
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Reviews & Ratings for
Swimming with Sharks More at IMDbPro »

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43 out of 48 people found the following review useful:

Dark humour or nihilism?

8/10
Author: Gauti Fridriksson (hveiti@yahoo.com) from Reykjavik, Iceland
27 November 2000

Powerful movie that shows the nastier, more foul-mouthed side of Hollywood. Guy, played by Whaley, is a Hollywood rookie with no real experience but some lofty goals. The movie charts his learning of the ways of Hollywood through becoming an assistant for fastidious big-shot producer Buddy Ackerman (Spacey), and his subsequent unlearning of the 'normal' moral values that apply almost anywhere else. A remarkable performance from Spacey who is by turns searingly offensive, scathingly funny and (funnily enough) vividly human. Making an audience feel for such a revolting character is a feat not many could accomplish, but Spacey's up to the task. Frank Whaley (possibly known to you through a bit part in 'Pulp Fiction') also turns in a very strong performance as the disillusioned young assistant who falls in love (or rather, in bed) with a female producer played by the sultry Michelle Forbes. Spacey and Whaley's interplay in key scenes is riveting, and for the most part, the younger Whaley manages to stay out of Spacey's shadow.

The movie's ending is quite unforeseeable, and its message can be construed either as darkly humorous satire against Hollywood, or as a nihilistic comment on the ways of mankind. Judging by the not-so-humorous tone of the movie (though ludicrously enough it was marketed as a comedy), to me it feels like the latter applies. Definitely worth seeing, even if only for Spacey. 8/10

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32 out of 39 people found the following review useful:

For anyone who's ever had a vindictive boss - or a job at all, for that matter

7/10
Author: MovieAddict2014 from UK
12 July 2005

"Swimming with Sharks" was made right around the time Kevin Spacey was becoming a rising star - his name was becoming well known enough that he could help finance low budget movies. Along with "The Usual Suspects" he helped "Swimming with Sharks" get off the ground, and now ten years later (it was given wide release in 1995) it still holds up well as a very, very dark comedy.

In fact, comedy isn't the right word. This shouldn't really be classified as comedy. It's not that funny. It works better as a dark satire - I expected something like "War of the Roses," but instead I got a Tarantino version of "Office Space" (complete with torture, violence, revenge and mayhem!).

Frank Whaley stars as Guy, a typical nobody who dreams of being a somebody. (Even his name confines him to anonymity.) When he lands a job working for world-famous producer Buddy Ackerman (Spacey), his future looks bright...until he realizes what he's in for.

Spacey delivers the best performance of the film, yelling, screaming, and throwing hissy fits practically every time he's on screen. But he never pushes the limits. He's always believable as a self-absorbed, ego-maniacal, ruthless producer; the director claims on the DVD commentary track and documentaries that he based the character and many scenes on actual things that happened to him while he worked for unnamed producers in Hollywood. Joel Silver is rumored to have been the basis for Ackerman.

The movie isn't great and never really achieves the amount of laughs I wanted but if you view it as a very dark drama-comedy you're more likely to enjoy it. I still found myself quite entertained and taken aback by how daring and unique this movie actually is - no one can condemn it for resorting to clichés. The ending is a punch in the stomach, I never expected it.

Whaley is good at playing the over/underwhelmed everyman and the direction is OK (if just so). The best aspects are the witty script and Kevin Spacey's scene-stealing performance; together he has good chemistry with Whaley and the movie succeeds based on the actors' success in their roles.

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23 out of 28 people found the following review useful:

Why is this so enjoyable?

8/10
Author: Mike Keating (yamawhore@gmail.com) from London, England
1 June 2006

Swimming with Sharks sees Guy (Frank Whaley) attempt to "turn the tables" on his abusive boss Buddy (Kevin Spacey), and while this makes the film simple and unoriginal in terms of plot, it is a cut above the rest thanks to the performances of its small cast.

One would assume that we would root for Guy, the innocent graduate demeaned by his aggressive boss, but the way the film tells the story prevents us from empathizing with him (as does his awful haircut); knowing that he tortures Buddy physically for his mental abuse complicates our response, and puts us on Buddy's side, allowing us to enjoy the games Buddy plays with Guy. This is something that's made very easy to do by the acting. Kevin Spacey is typically excellent as Buddy Ackerman and is the most engaging character in the film, remaining funny and manipulative throughout, even while being tortured and held hostage, as well as handling the more serious emotional aspects of his character expertly. Frank Whaley is also brilliant, playing the overwhelmed lapdog who is eventually pushed over the edge by Buddy's abuse. Importantly however, despite his plans for revenge, he remains under Buddy's spell right up until the end, and is eventually broken.

The film's conclusion further complicates our responses to both characters. The hostage situation revelations pull the audience between the impassioned-now-heartless Buddy and the desperate and confused Guy, but ultimately good does not prevail, and the shooting and Buddy's manipulation of the situation remove us from both characters as the film ends.

All in all, Swimming with Sharks is an enjoyable film. The simple plot and small cast are compensated for by some fine performances; it's funny , well-acted, and definitely worth watching.

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21 out of 27 people found the following review useful:

One of the best artistic commentaries on the professional world

10/10
Author: Brandt Sponseller from New York City
22 July 2006

This film would be worth watching just for Kevin Spacey's portrayal of the ultimate boss from hell, Buddy Ackerman, but there's also much more than that going on. Ostensibly a damning look at the inner workings of the film business, Swimming with Sharks just as accurately depicts any highly dysfunctional employer/employee/associate relationships, and that's a lot of them.

But even more than that, there is a lot of mostly unstated philosophical material underpinning much of the film, some of it literal and some more metaphorical, such as the ending. One of the key lines of dialogue towards this end is Ackerman's, "If you're not a rebel by 21, you've got no heart, and if you haven't gone establishment by 30, you've got no brain".

Ackerman obviously has problems or he wouldn't be acting quite in the way that he is, but director George Huang and Spacey are also careful to show that Ackerman has a lot more going on than surface behavior--he's acting the way that he is purposefully, both to get his due now as part of the establishment and to coyly manipulate his young, meek and abused underling, Guy (Frank Whaley), along with everyone else he comes into contact with. His aim is to mold Guy in a particular way--a way that works even though Guy thinks that he's severely breaking form in the extended penultimate scene that's intercut with Guy and Ackerman's history.

Huang shows professional relationships as consisting mostly of politicking and manipulation. That's true at every level--certainly even Guy is doing this. There is very little authenticity to anyone in their working relationships. That seems pretty accurate to me, unfortunately. It's notable that the one dream of authenticity in the film--Guy talking about moving to Wyoming with Dawn (Michelle Forbes)--is treated and dispensed with as an unreachable fantasy, and it's also notable (and is fairly literally pointed out in the film) that Dawn, the one character who tries to demand being more authentic amidst the "shark infested waters" of the professional world, basically never gets anywhere.

In the highly metaphorical ending of the film, things remain manipulative, political and backstabbing, and in that climate, at least two out of three characters "win". Huang seems to be suggesting that the professional world ain't likely to change any time soon, and that even if you try to change it or manipulate the game itself, you're likely to just get eaten up by it, processed by it and incorporated into it anyway. Again, I can't say I disagree with him.

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17 out of 23 people found the following review useful:

Spacey great as always

Author: Tito-8 from North Bay, Ontario
11 November 1998

Kevin Spacey, perhaps the finest actor on the planet, is brilliant as usual in his hilarious turn as Buddy Ackerman, one of the nastiest characters that you'll ever see anywhere on film. Sure, the whole cast is great, but it is Spacey who really shines, and he is the reason that this film works so well. Watch this movie if you want to laugh your head off, or if you simply want to see a legend in the making at the top of his game, yet again.

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27 out of 44 people found the following review useful:

a misfortunate case of a great fim seen by a few "movie buffs"

9/10
Author: eyal philippsborn (eyal_philippsborn@yahoo.com) from jerusalem, israel
28 July 2000

Today, when kevin spacey has enough recognition and reputation that won't be tampered even if he'll star on "baywatch" for the rest of his life - my praises won't mean much. spacey is a superb actor, no doubt about it. but for frank whaley, appearences in the "right" films (natural born killers, born in the 4th of july, pulp fiction) as well as a undisputable talent did not turn him to a reknowned actor - which only goes to show that no matter how good you are, in most cases success is a luck depandant variable. On with the movie, the story of an ambitious youngster who wishes to engage in a key role of the film industry and starts to work as an assistant for a completely manipulating, ungreatful, demeaning movie producer george huang

(the writer and director) could come up with. the movie begins with guy (frank whaley) kidnapping buddy ackerman in his own house and concurrently whit guy's act of abuse to his hated boss, unfolds the story of a young kid with high hopes who was entangled both in the cynic world of his women loving, hair losing boss and in a relationship with a struggling movie producer - dawn (michelle forbes- now on "homicide - life on the streets"). the movie continues up to the point where guy has to decide which of those worlds to choose and now i won't add anything in fear of disclosing the end (and its unpredictable no matter which option you chose)

the movie is a complete delight and all i can say is - this may not be the best film you ever seen but it will sure leave enough of an impression to more than justify the two hours of your leisure time.

9 out of 10 in my scale

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11 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

He who must be obeyed

10/10
Author: cfn_halliwell from United Kingdom
29 January 2005

This film just sums up what it is to be a flunky in Hollywood. Buddy Ackerman is your normal high flying film producer, from the sharp suits down to the aggressive approach to anyone below him. Guy is flunky who has the job of dealing with Buddy's every whim, and then there's Dawn Lockard who is stuck in the middle. With an explosive relationship between all of them, the film is set at the home of Buddy. Guy has taken him hostage, and is annoyed that Buddy has fired him. Set with a series of flashbacks starting with an appearance with Benicio Del Toro, it tells the tale of what Guy has had to put up with in working for Buddy and all the hell he was put through to get to the place that he was before being fired over nothing. Very under-rated film and Spacey is amazing. Also applause to go to Frank Whaley for his great conflicting work with Spacey. A+

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8 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Hollywood's dark heart

7/10
Author: CountZero313 from Japan
9 March 2011

From Sunset Boulevard (1950) through to The Player (1992), the dark side of Hollywood has given up juicy material for filmmakers looking to bite the hand that feeds. Not that there is any secret to be revealed here - pretty much everything you need to know about the soulless, spirit-crushing side of movie-making is contained in Raymond Chnadler's 1945 essay "Writer's in Hollywood", which contains more horror than any of the celluloid parodies it has since inspired.

Swimming with Sharks is the tale of innocent Guy (a freshly scrubbed Frank Whaley), whose monster boss is tinsel town king-maker Buddy Ackerman, a screaming, mood-shifting bully who dangles just enough opportunity before Guy to keep him on his leash. But payback is due, and comes in spades.

It is all very dark and delicious, and Spacey gets to rip loose as the psycho boss, the joke being that it is his very lack of sanity and compassion that allows him to thrive in the business. Love interest is supplied by producer Dawn (Michelle Forbes), who allows Guy to stay grounded as he negotiates his way to the top. Dawn and Guy show us that even in Hollywood true love can conquer all - or can it? It is received wisdom that movies about movies don't travel very well. Swimming with Sharks is about delusion and corruption, and how much the human spirit can take. It just happens to be set in Hollywood, but Buddy Ackerman could be Gordon Gecko in a different market. Worth watching to see Spacey enjoying himself in a role where he gets to say pretty much whatever he likes, and does so with relish.

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6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Delightful discovery

8/10
Author: jennifer626 from United States
19 December 2010

I was so depressed after watching "The Men Who Stare At Goats" that I actively sought out Kevin Spacey movies to help redeem my perceptions of him. I saw "K-Pax" last week, which was adequately engaging, then found "Swimming with Sharks" on the IFC. What a find! This low-cost(less than $1M) film must not have had a very big marketing budget -- it completely escaped me at the time -- but it's one of the best performances Kevin Spacey I've ever seen. An abusive, self-indulgent, arrogant boss in the film industry, his role easily translates into that of a recognizable evil boss in any field. Spacey nicely runs the gamut of expression from god-like to humbled. His once-idealistic assistant is played by Frank Whaley, who never really saw his full potential subsequently develop in his career but has had nice turns in Pulp Fiction and a number of high-production TV series. Whaley too should be commended for his ability to grow the character from a wide-eyed beginning his dream job, to a vengeful warrior out for blood. The film centers on the dysfunctional relationship between these two and is weak only when it attempts to introduce minor roles featuring Michelle Forbes (Maryann on "True Blood") and Benecio del Toro (though these actors perform well with what they've been given).

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

"The Player" meets "Office Space." The Inside Dope On Hollywood Off Of The Red Carpet.

7/10
Author: abyoussef from Alameda, CA
21 September 2010

by Dane Youssef

Now here's a movie for those looking for an attack on white-collar corporate office life, the spinning gears of Hollywood.

"Swimming With Sharks" seems to owe more than a little something to "Dilbert." The movie is more about Corporate America than Hollywood. There are a lot of white-collar touches that apply to offices, cubicles and other such rather than the Hollywood spin machine. Like Robert Altman's "The Player," this is one of those thrillers about people in "the biz" who are driven to the breaking point by how cruel L.A. can really be.

The film's writer/director George Huang himself was a former personal assistant to some of the biggest names in Hollywood, has described the movie as "20% autobiographical." Much of this one is said to be based on his experience working for noted mega-mogul producer Joel Silver for Columbia Pictures. So it should come as no surprise what-so-ever that his first crack at film was his own life story.

Surprise, surprise, huh? Well, more or less.

Despite Kevin Spacey being the big name in this movie and him getting first-billing, Frank Whaley ("Career Opportunities") is the star of this one. Most of anything with him head-lining is a sign of a bad movie ("Cold Dog Soup" and "The Jimmy Show"), but this is one of those where he shines because he's allowed to. He's not the most versatile actor, the best-looking or the most charismatic. He's had a rep as being something of the life-long "bit player." But when he's given a movie, script and part which allows him any headway, he damn well manages to make the most of it.

Spacey, being one of Hollywood's finest and renown, is able to pull off the screaming antagonistic drill-instructor and the restrained, tortured hostage here pitch perfectly.

Whaley effectively plays the green, naive wide-eyed rookie to the Hollywood roulette wheel with his usual perfection, but when the other shoe drops, he doesn't quite pull off the scorned, disgruntled employee seeking revenge. His Jekyll isn't as convincing as his Hyde. He doesn't scare us. He never seems truly unhinged. Maybe that's why Whaley sticks to the youthful deer-in-the-headlights. Whaley doesn't really seem as demented and unhinged as he should in his captor scenes. He's best as a whipping boy--which is why he plays so many.

1994 was the official year for Spacey. He got his breakout with the TV series "Wiseguys," and made the big screen transition with worthwhile fare like his Oscar-winning supporting role in "The Usual Suspects," "The Ref," "Se7en" and this. Spacey monopolized himself in the '94 as "absolute talent" (my term).

Benecio Del Toro, the "Brad Pitt of Mexico" (someone else's quote, believe me, I never dubbed him such) has a quickie cameo as Spacey's assistant who's given his three weeks' notice and is on the way out, making way for Guy. But not before giving Whaley some final parting words of wisdom. "Protect his interests, serve his needs. What you think means nothing. What you feel means nothing. You have no brain. He yells all the time. It's a lose-lose situation." This job is a fast-track shortcut to the top and if Guy does right and keeps his mouth open wide to catch all of Buddy's crap, he may very well be someday on the same mantel as Buddy and his former assistants. Everything Guy'll ever need to know about his job, he learns on day one.

Enter Dawn Locklard (Michelle Forbes of "Guiding Light" and "24"), another powerful Hollywood producer who Guy doesn't have the best first meeting with. She doesn't show a lot of warmth, which explains why she's a producer.

She herself is angry and cynical, and throughout the course of the film, we will see why. She eventually warms up to Guy and asks him out. Guy is stunned. But she needs Buddy on her side and is interested in him getting behind her new project. Guy sees this as an opportunity. Her new project for the studio, "Real Life" may just be Guy's window of opportunity. She seems to be interested in Guy because he's the most real thing she's seen in the Valley for the longest time. But does she really feel something for him or is she just using him? Is Buddy two- faced and back-stabbing or is Dawn? Guy no longer knows what's real and what's what?

Although when Guy starts to show some spine after a lot of Buddy's tantrums, the payoff is almost evenly matched with the faux-sugar scene. Buddy gets to emotionally, verbally (and at times, physically) abuses Guy (and apparently all his assistant's) on every possible occasion. He also gets to skewer just about everyone who crosses his path.

"Swimming With Sharks" is no featherweight comedy for a slow night about a bullying boss like the trailer lead you to believe. It's a film which deals with white-collar office comedy and torturous drama. Shifting from a lightweight comedy to a torturous thriller. It's sort of schizophrenic thing. We're laughing heartily one minute and horrified the next. A lot of time, this one keeps us guessing as it criss-crosses from Buddy torturing Guy to vice-versa.

But there's a lot (maybe too much) about this one that rings too-true to life. A lot of moments filled with the harsh insights and disillusioned truths that one learns from living an uncharmed life. And so there's illuminating light and lessons, as well as laughs. Not to mention some great heavier moments where ugly secrets about Buddy and... well, surprisingly Dawn are revealed.

The plot is over-developed and the ending is more poetic than anything else. But most of the movie really does work and really does sticks with you... like all the great ones do.

--Hoo-Ray For Corporate Hollywood, Dane Youssef

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