George Huang’s Swimming with Sharks has always been a dark film. But revisiting it, knowing what we now know about Kevin Spacey’s behaviour off-camera, the film reaches an even more disturbing level. This UK Blu-ray debut’s press release puts it rather perfectly: “A comedy about abuse featuring Kevin Spacey. Yep there isn’t anything we won’t release. Don’t blame me. I don’t do the deals. I just write the press releases.”
Spacey is Buddy Ackerman, an influential movie mogul and ‘boss from hell’ who hires a fresh-faced and naïve young writer Gus (Frank Whaley) as his assistant. On Gus’ first day, he is subjected to a torrent of sadistic verbal abuse that only gets worse, and more physical, as Gus gets deeper into the cut-throat world of Hollywood. The dark, psychological drama (confusingly and perhaps incorrectly billed as a comedy in some marketing, including the aforementioned press release) covers two interweaving strands of narrative – Gus’ first year under Buddy’s reign, and the climactic night where Buddy is bound and tortured by Gus at his breaking point.
With sharp dialogue and fascinating insight into the inner-workings of Hollywood, the film is first and foremost a chilling satire. But I would argue it could even be billed as a horror Spacey’s performance is terrifying, with a genuinely intimidating presence that keeps the audience on edge throughout the film. As noted in the introduction, this is now all the more disturbing in light of the allegations against Spacey in recent years. As the vile and volatile villain, it’s frightening to consider that perhaps there isn’t a great deal of acting going on.
Frank Whaley steals the show, however, as the executive pushed to breaking point. It feels like The Player meets Straw Dogs, with Gus’ psyche slowly chipped away until he explodes into a torturous rage. Swimming with Sharks is a very uncomfortable and disturbing film that is difficult to watch – and not just because of Spacey’s involvement.
With its downbeat and bleak ending, it is not a film that would particularly inspire rewatches – but for fans of the film, Fabulous Films have just given Swimming with Sharks a long overdue UK Blu-ray release alongside a new DVD. Picture and audio quality are unremarkable but perfectly serviceable considering the film, while a surprisingly generous selection of archival special features round off the release.
Swimming with Sharks is a dark and twisted psychological drama that is all the more disturbing in the wake of Kevin Spacey’s abuse allegations.