“A young Hollywood executive becomes the assistant to a big time movie producer who is the worst boss imaginable: abusive, abrasive and cruel. But soon things turn around when the young executive kidnaps his boss and visits all the cruelties back on him.”
“Swimming with Sharks is a cold and uncaring movie. It’s sarcastic, abusive, aggressive, and pretty darn bleak. Throw in some deep black comedy and an earth-shatteringly evil performance by master-bastard Kevin Spacey, and you’re looking that a movie that I’ve really grown to admire. And I know I’m not alone in that opinion.
Spacey stars as Buddy Ackerman, a high-ranking production executive at Keystone Pictures. Frank Whaley plays “Guy,” a young man who has the extreme misfortune of becoming Buddy’s newest assistant. (Buddy’s former assistant is played, via a brilliant extended cameo, by Benicio Del Toro.) Now … to say that Buddy Ackerman is the world’s worst boss is like saying that molten lava is a mildly unpleasant material to wade through. Ackerman’s abusive, demeaning, cold-hearted and cruel — and damn if he doesn’t make for one entertaining bastard to visit with!
Young, innocent Guy must put up with all of Buddy’s ceaseless abuse because, hell, he’s just getting his start in the world of Hollywood show biz! There are hundreds of unemployed USC grads who’d slap six grandmothers to be the assistant to uber-producer Buddy Ackerman!
So Guy suffers in relative silence, intent on getting his work done while bowing to Buddy’s every whim, wish, and tantrum. But when a pretty lady producer drops a “hot property” onto Guy’s desk, things start looking up for the beleaguered and abused assistant. Or maybe not. With a hateful jerk like Buddy Ackerman as your boss, you can never let your guard down.
Written and directed by a man who once spent nearly a decade as Guy, Swimming with Sharks pretty much reeks of real-life experience. (Aside from the last five minutes, that is.) Spacey’s Buddy Ackerman is simply too amazing of a jerk to be a fictional construct. Create this character from scratch and he’d come off as cartoonishly evil. But just when you think Buddy is a one-note villain of the most despicable kind, you start to see a few cracks in the facade. Or maybe not.
One of the true joys of Spacey’s performance here is seeing the method to Buddy’s madness. Yes, it’s a whole lot of great, vulgar fun to see Buddy perpetually mock and harangue his mild-mannered assistant, but there’s also a subtle undercurrent of intent … as if Buddy really does care about Guy and is just trying to toughen him up for life in the Hollywood trenches. But, again, maybe not. This is not a movie that paints in simple shades of black and white.
Regardless of the reasons behind his cruelty, Buddy ultimately goes way too far and forces Guy to snap under the pressure. As Swimming with Sharks opens, Guy is taking Buddy hostage inside his own palatial estate; the film flips back and forth between Guy’s gradual introduction to the movie biz and the merciless revenge he chooses to take on his professional tormentor.
For a comedy, it’s pretty darn bleak. And I for one happen to think that’s a very good thing. Swimming with Sharks feels like real-life angst and well-earned frustration as poured out into screenplay form. And while the proceedings might prove to be a bit too harsh for the average movie-watcher, it’s the hardcore movie geeks who’ve made Swimming with Sharks a bona-fide cult classic — partially because it’s a trenchant and unflinching peek behind the Hollywood curtain, but mainly because it’s a story we can all relate to.
I mean, who hasn’t had one of those amazingly jerk-faced workplace superiors that we’d just love to tie to a chair and torture with paper cuts? We all have, and those who suffer in silence can live vicariously through a movie like Swimming with Sharks. It’s darkly hilarious, smoothly entertaining, and almost sinfully cruel. And the finalé packs a real stinger.”
— Scott Weinberg, DVDTALK.COM