"A pulse-pounding cyber thriller starring Jeremy Northam (GOSFORD PARK, EMMA) and Lucy Liu (KILL BILL VOLUME 1, CHARLIE'S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE), CYPHER is sure to entertain you! When computer expert Morgan Sullivan (Northam) joins a huge multinational company, he assumes a new identity and is sent undercover to investigate corporate espionage. Before long, he finds himself caught up in a vicious cycle of paranoia and mistrust. Then along comes Rita (Liu), a sexy and smart secret agent who informs Sullivan that he's being brainwashed and that she is the only one who can help him! Loaded with riveting twists and amazing special effects ... you're sure to applaud this fast-paced thriller! ." amazon.com Editorial review
The main character is a man named Morgan Sullivan (Jeremy Northam). He is quite a dull geeky person living a clean but incredibly boring life. He is married to a dull wife, has no friends, and lives in a small house in one of those neighborhood communities where all the houses look the same.
The movie starts with Morgan being interviewed for a job with Digicorp Technologies, a huge technology firm. It's quite an unusual interview since Morgan is put under a hi-tech brain scanner and only asked questions like whether or not he is a corporate spy working for Sunways Systems, Digicorp's rival company. After passing the neurograph 5 times, he meets his new boss, Finster, who tells him his job will be to attend different conventions across the country and record the convention speeches. (Digicorp uses many corporate spies to stay ahead of other companies.) Morgan is given a special pen with a microphone and satellite transmitter inside that he needs to turn on for the speeches. He is also given a new identity, Jack Thursby, which Digicorp will now know him by.
Morgan/Jack's first assignment is a cosmetics convention in Buffalo, NY. Morgan, excited about starting a new persona, orders something new on his plane ride: a single-malt scotch on the rocks (important). However, his enthusiasm for his new spy-work soon fades to tortuous boredom, as the convention speeches are very long and very boring. He essentially needs to sit still and feign interest the entire time.
After the speech is over, Morgan socializes at the hotel bar with his new Jack Thursby persona. We can see that he acts very differently now: he is entertaining and very smooth. He even decides to take up smoking and orders an exotic brand of gold-colored cigarettes, calling them his favorite brand (important). He then sees a beautiful woman sitting alone at the bar (Lucy Liu) and actually goes for it (this is something his original persona didn't have the balls to do). During a short bar conversation, Jack tells Lucy Liu (named Rita Foster) that he likes to play golf and go sailing, and Rita tells him that she's a health inspector for hotel bars. The bar scene ends short when Rita tells Jack that he is still wearing his wedding ring.
On the plane back home, Jack gets a call from Finster, who tells him that his transmission came through perfectly and that he'll be sent to another convention in Omaha, NE in a few days. After Jack hangs up, he gets a migraine headache (the audience sees quick mental flashes that they can't make out).
At home, Morgan's smoking and new interest in TV golf gets him in an argument with his wife and he basically walks out on her.
On his flight to Omaha, we see that Morgan is becoming more and more like Jack Thursby. He no longer wears glasses and acts more confident, always ordering a single-malt scotch on the rocks. The movie skips the convention's first day activities and cuts strait to Morgan waking up from nightmares in the middle of the night. He is in his hotel room and is having more migraines (we see more quick flashes). He hears noise from the hotel ice machine outside and checks it out. He sees a woman who looks like Rita Foster head up to the hotel roof. He follows her to the roof and finds her and 2 armed Men-in-Black agents waiting for him. She's not a health inspector after all, since she knows all about his involvement with Digicorp and the headaches/nightmares he's been having. She gives him some pills to deal with the pain, and asks him not to turn on his pen the next day at the convention. She tells him to not tell Digicorp that they met or else Digicorp will kill him, and most importantly she tells him to not forget who he is: he is Morgan Sullivan, not Jack Thursby. She also mentions that she'll meet him soon in Boise, Idaho. She and her agents then fly off in a futuristic black helicopter.
So Jack leaves his pen off the next day at the convention, and Finster still calls him on the plane and tells him that his transmission went through perfectly! In addition, Finster also tells Jack that they need him to immediately go to another convention in Boise, Idaho (where Rita mentioned earlier). Jack then gets another migraine and finally decides to start taking the pills Rita gave him.
A hotel clerk in Boise gives Jack a means of deciphering a telephone number from a bible passage. Jack uses the number (untraceable) to call Rita. They arrange a secret meeting, and in another brief mysterious conversation, Rita tells Morgan that the conventions are all charades and that every convention guest is also a spy working for Digicorp -- all given phony assignments so they don't figure out that they are being brainwashed. It turns out that the drinks served at the conventions are laced with a tasteless odorless narcotic, and between the long boring speeches (where the guests all space out) Digicorp agents come in and place gizmos on the guests' heads which program them with new identities! Rita injects jack with a special shot to block out the Digicorp narcotic so that he won't be brainwashed.
So in the coolest scene in the movie, Morgan/Jack pretends to be drugged while witnessing the brainwashing gizmos in action. In this scene, we figure out that the flashes we saw earlier were from these gizmos, which shine rapid images and audio into the eyes and ears. For Morgan, Digicorp is trying to get him to believe that he is not Morgan Sullivan but Jack Thursby, and that he lives in Redmond, Washington (not San Jose) and is married to Diane Thursby. Apparently the convention in Boise, Idaho is the last brainwashing session needed because?
The next morning, Jack wakes up in his new home in Redmond, Washington. Everything looks similar to his old life (to ease the transition), even his wife looks and acts the same (she's an actress planted there by Digicorp). He plays along with the brainwashing and figures out from his planner that he is having an interview that day with Sunways Systems! (Digicorp is trying to put him in Sunways as a spy.)
So Jack has the interview with Sunways Systems, which also uses a neurograph and asks strange questions. And since Jack actually isn't brainwashed, the neurograph detects that he is lying. This however is what Sunways wants. Apparently Sunways hired a man named Sebastian Rooks (important) to send them a Digicorp mole who wasn't really brainwashed. Frank Callaway, Jack's new boss at Sunways, explains to Jack that Rita Foster works for Sebastian Rooks, and that Sebastian Rooks is a freelancer who sells technology to both companies. (Sorry if this is confusing.) Basically, Rooks is the genius mastermind who invented the neurographs used by both companies. Callaway warns Jack to stay away from Rooks and Rita Foster because they are very dangerous.
So Jack/Morgan basically has no choice but to work for Sunways as a double agent, because he knows that Digicorp agents will follow him everywhere he goes outside of work and will kill him the instant he tries to run away. Callaway convinces Morgan that he is fortunate to have been chosen, since the other convention guests will eventually be killed by Digicorp once they can no longer serve their purpose. Callaway also convinces Morgan to help bring justice to Digicorp, and promises that when Morgan's work with Sunways is over, he will be given a new life.
Morgan however is no longer very fond the life of a spy, let alone having to continue to live in a boring home with a boring wife. He misses Rita, so he secretly calls her again (using the bible cipher) hoping that Rooks will provide him sanctuary from both Digicorp and Sunways. Rita meets Morgan and tells him that despite what Sunways has promised him, Sunways will surely kill him after his work with them is over. Rooks though can be trusted and will give him a new life -- as long as Morgan works for Rooks (making him a triple agent I guess). All Rooks asks of Morgan is to play along with what Sunways wants him to do, but replace a Sunways disk with Rooks' disk on his last assignment, which Rooks knows will be in Wichita, Kansas, then return the disk to Rooks. At this point, Morgan has been bombarded with so much information and deception that he doesn't really know who to trust, but he decides to side with Rooks because of his crush on Rita.
So Morgan does what Rooks wants by basically playing along with what Sunways wants him to do. He bugs his house with secret cameras (so Sunways can counter-spy on the Digicorp spies), and goes on several business trips to download sensitive data onto his personal disk. And each night, he lets his wife sneak into his briefcase and copy the disk.
Finally, Sunways sends Morgan on his last mission: to "the vault" in Wichita, Kansas (just as Rooks predicted). The vault is Sunways's super secure and super insulated data bank located 1000 or so stories underground. The idea is for Morgan to go there, download a nasty program onto his disk, and go back to his wife. His wife (Digicorp) will think that the disk contains the mother-load of sensitive information (since Digicorp has never managed to infiltrate the vault), when in fact the disk's contents will destroy Digicorp completely (sort of like a Trojan horse).
And as planned, the night before the last mission, Rita comes to Morgan in his hotel room and gives him the disk to switch with the one he's supposed to bring to the vault. (Rooks's disk is supposed to covertly retrieve and delete something from the vault.) Morgan kisses Rita and it's implied that this leads to sex (It's goodbye sex, since he will go into hiding after this mission and never see her again). Oh yea, Morgan is having some migraines again (but the flashes are different from before).
But on the next day, something unexpected happens. Morgan's cab driver taking him from the hotel to the vault turns out to be Finster! Finster tells Morgan that he's known all along that Morgan wasn't brainwashed, because Rooks had paid Finster to hire Morgan in the first place, and also paid him to make sure that Morgan became the spy assigned to Sunways. However, Finster has always been loyal to Digicorp and now wants to steal the disk from Rooks. Finster basically tells Morgan who Rooks really is: he is a cyberspace phantom and no one knows who he is and lives to talk about it (not even his own operatives). Companies hire Rooks without ever knowing who he is because if they knew, they'd kill him. Likewise, the only person who has seen Rooks is Rita Foster, Rooks's loyal lover! (This breaks Morgan's heart and suggests that Rooks is also going to kill him when it's all done.) Finster offers not to kill Morgan as long as Morgan returns the disk to Finster (not to Rooks) once he leaves the vault. Finster has no idea what's on the disk but he knows that if "Rooks went through all this trouble to get it, it must be extremely valuable." Before finally dropping Morgan off at the vault, Finster gives him a telephone number to call incase they later get separated.
So Morgan gets dropped off at the vault, which is appears to just be a grassy field in the middle of nowhere. Then an over-the-top sci-fi elevator comes out of the ground and takes Morgan down to the vault, which is also an over-the-top sci-fi lair of computers. Morgan meets with a man named Virgil Dunn (David Hewlett). Morgan gives Virgil the Rooks disk and while they're waiting for it to finish copying, Virgil figures out that Morgan is really a double agent (Virgil was a former mole spotter before the neurograph replaced him) but Morgan manages to knock out Virgil and retrieve the disk and take Virgil's gun. He narrowly escapes the vault, with the help of Rita Foster and the black helicopter.
So Morgan now has no choice but to fly with Rita Foster to meet Rooks (where he will get killed?), but he hands Rita the wrong disk. The helicopter lands on the roof of a building, and Rita takes Morgan into Rooks's big cozy house. She leaves him in the living room while she goes to fetch something. And when she steps out, Morgan realizes the doors are locked and panics. He calls Finster and Finster traces the call and tells him that Digicorp agents are on the way. Rita then comes back with Champagne and 2 glasses but Morgan pulls a gun on her, telling her about the wrong disk and the call he just made. When Rita insists that they both need to flea, Morgan accidentally shoots her in the arm. But even with agents on the way and a bleeding arm, Rita still sincerely insists that Morgan go into the other room and meet Rooks. Morgan goes ahead and does this, taking the gun with him. He goes into the other room but finds only himself alone in the room? which has a set of golf clubs by the wall, and a bunch of bottles of expensive single-malt scotch on the table. Morgan accidentally knocks over an ashtray and sees that all the cigarette butts are gold colored. He then has his meltdown and he realizes that? HE IS SEBASTIAN ROOKS. (He brainwashed himself so that he could get into the vault. In fact, he was the one that invented the brainwash gizmos. Morgan's wife was one of Rooks's operatives.)
Moments later, Digicorp SWAT teams break down the door to the first floor, and Sunways SWAT teams come in through the roof. Rita leads Morgan (who still hasn't completely become Rooks yet) through a secret exit to the roof and they get into the helicopter, but Rita doesn't know how to fly it, only Rooks knows. Rita tells Morgan to remember his love for her?
Meanwhile the Digicorp SWAT teams and Sunways SWAT teams discover each other, and Callaway and Finster meet face to face. They temporarily decide on a truce since they are both only after Rooks. They find the secret exit to the roof and fire at the (bulletproof?) helicopter just moments after Morgan (who finally remembers who he is) flies away. Finster asks Callaway whether he saw Rooks's face, and Callaway replies saying "No, I only saw Sullivan, our pawn." Then the helicopter flies back on purpose so Callaway and Finster can see that Sullivan IS Rooks, just moments before a hidden bomb on the roof goes off, killing them.
The movie ends with Rooks with Rita happily sailing alone somewhere in the Caribbean. Rookes puts the vault disk into his laptop and shows Rita what's on it. The monitor shows files of Rita. Apparently Rooks loves Rita so much that he went through all that trouble just to erase her criminal record from the vault. Rooks then throws the disk (the only copy left) into the ocean. THE END.
CUT TO THE CHASE:
Morgan is Sebastian Rooks. Rooks needed to brainwash himself to get past Digicorp's neurograph. He paid Finster to make sure he was chosen to be the brainwashed spy inside Sunways. However Rooks had Rita stop the brainwashing so that Sunways would use him as a double agent and eventually let him into the vault.
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