Swimming with Sharks (July 25/05)
Swimming with Sharks was released at a time when Kevin Spacey was right on the edge of becoming a full-fledged movie star. The one-two punch of Se7en and The Usual Suspects would be out a year later, cementing his status as one of the most unique, interesting actors of his generation. In Swimming with Sharks, Spacey delivers one of his most memorable performances - one that makes it fairly easy to overlook some of the film's more obvious deficiencies.
Though Spacey's clearly the main attraction here, the story actually revolves around Guy (Frank Whaley) - a would-be writer who's just started working for a legendary producer named Buddy Ackerman (Spacey). It doesn't take Guy long to discover that Buddy is a notoriously temperamental boss who gleefully torments his assistants, both verbally and physically. Those scenes occur in flashback, with the film's present set a year later with Buddy getting his revenge by kidnapping and torturing Buddy.
Swimming with Sharks has been written and directed by George Huang, a first-time filmmaker who reportedly received inspiration for the storyline from his years working under a Buddy-esque employer. Consequently, it becomes increasingly obvious that Huang expects the viewer to place their sympathies entirely with Guy - despite the fact that Spacey imbues Buddy with a number of (admittedly) small humanizing qualities. As such, it becomes increasingly difficult to side with Guy's plight given his unusually rough treatment of Buddy (which hardly seems warranted). And then there's the film's conclusion, which doesn't make a lick of sense (the death of a pivotal character goes completely unexplained).
Having said that, there's no denying the effectiveness of Swimming with Sharks' early scenes - something due in no small part to Spacey's endlessly engaging performance. While Whaley is quite good as Guy, this is Spacey's show all the way (the reason many of the film's best lines work as well as they do is thanks mostly to Spacey's hilariously dead-pan delivery).