The Net


Rating 3½

Directed by Irwin Winkler

Written by John D Brancato and Michael Ferris

Starring Sandra Bullock, Jeremy Northam and Dennis Miller

I count a lot of films that are now widely acknowledged as classics, both by critics and film fans, amongst my favourites. These do tend to be films from an earlier era and not all of them have always been so highly regarded. I am thinking about the likes of ‘The Thin Man’, ‘The Ghostbreakers’, ‘A Matter Of Life And Death’, ‘On The Town’ and ‘Touch Of Evil’.

I can spot a “classic” film when I see one, although I might be inclined to question that accolade when it is applied to some films. However, when it comes to films, and indeed actors, from more recent times it seems as if I invariably make choices that are widely derided by critics and film fans alike.

This brings me to ‘The Net’. This is one of several Sandra Bullock films I like. Others include ‘Practical Magic’, ‘Hope Floats’ and ‘The Lake House’.

Many people would argue that the films I have just mentioned are cynical join-the-dots Hollywood popcorn fodder, made for the lowest common denominator, with absolutely nothing to recommend them. The Hollywood studios that produced these films would, I suspect, pay little attention to such criticism. Whatever the general opinion of her film choices might be, Sandra Bullock is a genuine box office heavyweight.

This is no indication of any artistic worth in the films she makes. However, the constant allusions to the death of her career I keep reading about simply seems to suggest that film critics are not very good at paying attention to what is actually going on.

I sometimes feel as if I might just be the only person in the world to actually like ‘The Net’, despite its success at the box office, a gross of $111 million. However, although the 33 reviews collected at Rotten Tomatoes result in a 30% rating, which is poor, this is a lot better than I was anticipating. Two good reviews of the film are worth mentioning here.

Roger Ebert opened his review with the comment;

“Perhaps this is simply a charmed period in Sandra Bullock’s life, and soon she will return to earth as an actress at the mercy of her material. Just now, however, she seems able to transcend the genres she appears in – to make us care about her characters even when they’re mired in preposterous dreck.”

He ends the review with the words;

“If Sandra Bullock ever gets a great screenplay, we may need seat belts.”

Michael Dequina, reviewing the film for ‘Mr Brown’s Movies’, wrote, “Irwin Winkler’s thriller is fun popcorn entertainment, thanks in no small part to the always-likeable Bullock.”

These comments get to the heart of why Sandra Bullock films are so popular. She might not feature in the pages of celebrity magazines and gossip rags, but she is a genuine film star in the old fashioned sense of the term. She’s a “Marquee” name who can pull in audiences, despite the old hackneyed myth that female actors don’t have box office appeal.

I’ve always thought Bullock approaches every role the same way; no matter what kind of character she happens to be playing -- in other words, a kind of reversal of method acting. Instead of stripping away and submerging her own personality and morphing into the characteristics of the character she is playing, becoming that person, she gives the character her personality characteristics. Because she is also a skilled actor, this means she can take on a variety of different roles and make us care about each character, whatever their circumstances, simply because she projects a very likeable persona.

It seems to me she is doing what the old Hollywood stars used to do. She plays herself irrespective of the role. It worked for Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne, to name but two.

One criticism of ‘The Net’, apart from the implausibility of the scenario and the supposedly turgid sub-Hitchcockian directing job done by Irwin Winkler, is that the IT-world setting/context immediately dates the film horribly. As Brian McKay at put it:

“Stay away from this – unless of course you’re an AOL user with a 28k modem and a Pentium 90mhz, in which case you’ll be right up to speed with this film.”

Here’s an extract from another review, this one written retrospectively in February 2006:

“The Net has aged just as poorly as one might’ve expected; a surplus of dated references to floppy discs and dial-up modems cements the film’s status as a mid-90’s relic.”

David Nusair, Reel Film Reviews

This exact same thinking has been applied to many other films and TV shows over the years. I’ve never really been able to understand this kind of thinking, although that might just be because the strange world of IT still remains a complete mystery to me, even though it’s something I use every day.

‘The Net’ is my favourite Sandra Bullock film. I always enjoy watching it and not only do the alleged faults not bother me; I can’t even identify their presence in the first place.



whitelabcoat said...

For some bizarre reason that I haven't quite figured out yet, Christmastime is, for me, time to watch Sandra Bullock movies. Also, for me, most of her films suck* and I don't really know why I bother, except for the fact that I like Sandra 'Apart from the Lousy Movies, What's Not to Like?' Bullock a great deal. Having said that, it's not one of those things where I'll watch every-/anything she's in; it's more like the Ebert thing, where I keep hoping that she'll appear in something 'worthy' of her. (I tend to think of Bullock in a way similar to that famous quote about Rod Stewart and 'squandered talent'.) The closest I've seen would probably be Infamous, i.e., a film with Sandra Bullock in it where I didn't spend most of the time rolling my eyes or trying to stop them from closing sleepily; and I'd be more than happy to watch a (good) full-length Harper Lee biopic with Bullock reprising her role.**

Anyway ... this being the season and all, I recently watched The Net, which I'd seen when it first came out. My opinion hasn't changed - I still like Bullock, still hate the flick.

*Ones that don't suck (or that, at the very least, I enjoyed watching): Speed, Infamous, While You Were Sleeping.

**My other Sandra Bullock wish is that she makes another film with Nicole Kidman. I loathed Practical Magic, but they had great chemistry.

alienlanes said...

As my review suggests, I like ‘The Net’. A big part of the reason is Sandra Bullock, who has the ability to make a bad film better, or at least more bearable. Other films that would fit into that theory include ‘Hope Floats’ and ‘The Lake House’. It doesn’t always work that way, of course. She could do little to rescue ‘Premonition’.

As for ‘Practical Magic’, I cannot help but like it, despite its obvious faults. It might partly be because ‘Bewitched’ was my favourite television show when I was little and I have always retained a soft-spot for anything like it – ‘Charmed’, for example. I agree with you fully about Bullock and Nicole Kidman. The chemistry is obvious and it was an opportunity missed not pairing them up again, but Hollywood has never been very interested in its female actors.

whitelabcoat said...

Premonition - I swear I tried to approach it without any premonitions of my own regarding potential suckage, but God, the pain! It was awful. I haven't seen The Lake House, possibly because my heart wasn't in it after being subjected to Premonition - maybe next Christmas ...

The thing I forgot to mention about Infamous, which I take it you haven't checked out yet ... While I agree with you about Bullock's on-screen 'persona' projecting (and/or indeed reflecting) her likeability,* Infamous is possibly the only movie I've seen her in where she doesn't 'do' Sandra Bullock.** And it's not an impersonation either (see Cate Blanchette in The Aviator). Rather, in a really understated way, she does [morph] into the characteristics of the character she is playing, becoming that person. This is not to downplay her usual on-screen personality, but it's a great example of a 'star' with a strong identifiable persona disappearing completely into a role. Toby Jones was great, but, I think Bullock had the tougher, less flashy, job - and totally made it work.

*I realise my first comment possibly comes across like I think Bullock is the greatest actor evah! It's really more that I'm rooting for her to be truly great, but, for the most part, the work she's done hasn't allowed her to show that she can. Or, basically, what Ebert says. Plus, she seems like a nice person who deserves to be in better stuff!

**I guess the character in Crash isn't meant to be particularly likeable, but there's still quite a lot of 'Sandra Bullock' on the screen regardless.

alienlanes said...

I haven’t seen ‘Infamous’. I had already seen ‘Capote’ (the film with Philip Seymour Hoffman) and I didn’t want to watch this one immediately afterwards. After that, to be honest, I forgot about it, until I recently watched ‘The Mist’, which features Toby Jones. That reminded me and it is now on my rental list.

I think Sandra Bullock is a good actress, she has real screen presence and she projects a likeable persona. She is clearly very smart, which I guess also has a part to play in it. I like the fact that he has forged a successful career in an industry (the media representation of it included) that still mistrusts (even hates) women – consider the ongoing backlash conducted against Nicole Kidman in the printed press because she was being paid sums of money comparable to some of the top earning male actors.

I have not seen all of Bullock’s films and I do not like all of the films I have seen. It goes without saying that ‘Speed 2’ is awful. Worse than that was ‘Miss Congeniality’, which I had to stop watching after forcing myself to sit through it for a very long and painful hour. However, the fact that it was a major box office hit makes it notable (kicking against the myth that female actors are, as a given, box office poison, etc).

In the end, the thing I like most about Bullock is the fact that I like the majority of the films I’ve seen – ‘The Net’, ‘Hope Floats’, ‘Practical Magic’ and ‘The Lake House’ (films that are widely judged to be pretty bad) included. That might say more about my critical judgment and taste in films than anything else, but I can’t help it.