MGM // 2000 // 108 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // May 29th, 2001
Truth can be dangerous...Trust can be deadly.
Taking a topic from the headlines about Microsoft and their predatory business practices, AntiTrust tries to make a technological variant of the corporate suspense thriller, and only manages to keep the formula alive while adding nothing truly interesting to the genre. A highly implausible plot and some weak storytelling combine to make a quickly forgettable film. MGM has given the film the special edition treatment; and how I wish we could see this on films that truly deserve it instead.
Two sides of the debate about proprietary ownership of computer code are exemplified by the two extremes: on one side is Gary Winston (Tim Robbins), the head of a huge computer company called NURV, a thinly disguised take on Bill Gates and Microsoft. Like the Windows giant, NURV is under Justice Department investigation for monopolistic and predatory business practices, which threatens to delay the release of Synapse, a worldwide communications tool. On the other side sits Milo Hoffman (Ryan Phillipe), Teddy Chin (Yee Jee Tso), and their buddies trying to launch a start-up company of their own. The group of youngsters wants their code to be open source, so that the world may benefit by adding to or modifying their work and create a better product, and in their opinion, a better planet. Teddy is especially vehement on the issue, and considers companies like NURV the enemy. But Milo is impressed and intrigued when Gary Winston calls and offers him and Teddy an interview. Teddy of course refuses to go but Milo is sucked into the lavish lifestyle and corporate perks offered by NURV, and comes on board to help finish Synapse.
Cue the ominous music as we find nefarious things are afoot. Periodically Gary Winston shows up and gives Milo code that seems to come from nowhere yet is perfectly written to continue with his own work. Highly qualified programmers working outside NURV are dying violent deaths. Both Milo's co-worker Lisa (Rachael Leigh Cook) and his girlfriend Alice (Claire Forlani) have secrets. Red herrings, twists and turns, and betrayal are par for the course with the rest of the film, though it would have been nice for more of them to make sense.
It's not all bad. AntiTrust is a visually exciting film, with plenty of eye candy and computer displays and an energetic editing style. Clearly a lot of attention was paid to the look of the film and I think it succeeds visually.
AntiTrust also manages to remain believable with the jargon amidst its computerized setting. Yes, the code being shown is sometimes too basic for what it is supposed to be doing, but the ideas are realistic enough. Little touches like the bandwidth limitations on wireless handheld devices adds to the level of realism.
At times the film manages to succeed at what it is really trying to do; namely keeping the viewer in suspense. There was a red herring and a switch or two that caught me by surprise and re-awakened my interest.
For those of you who liked the film more than I did (more on that below), the DVD will be pleasing as well. The picture and sound quality are quite good, and there are several extra features to add to the disc's value. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is flawed but very watchable. Only a couple incidents of artifacting (pixelization and a couple ringing effects) and some unobtrusive edge enhancement mar an otherwise great picture. Colors are rich and well saturated, accurately rendered, and the level of detail is sharp. Blacks and shadow detail are excellent. The sound is very good as well, with Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks offered in English, French, and Spanish. The English track delivered crystal clear dialogue and great use of surrounds for ambient effects. The surround usage was well placed but subtle rather than an aggressive pounding from all sides. Not demo disc material, but entirely in keeping with the film.
The extra features are, of course, what makes this a special edition. First up is the commentary track, featuring director Peter Howitt and editor Zach Staenberg. I found it an interesting mix of telling how the film was made and analysis of the storyline. Next up is a rather poor 20-minute feature called "Cracking the Code," a behind the scenes piece with more promotional value than substance, yet gives too many spoilers away to be used as promotion. Eight deleted scenes, including alternate opening and ending sequences are offered with or without director commentary. There were good reasons for the cuts; the story would have been too predictable with them in place, as it telegraphed the switches. A music video from Everclear for "When It All Goes Wrong" and a theatrical trailer complete the mix. A satisfying package of bonus features taken in their entirety.
What isn't satisfying is the story itself. The premise is so unreasonable, so implausible, and rests on a couple virtual impossibilities that I simply couldn't identify with the story. For a very minor spoiler, know that what is happening is programmers are being killed for their code. This assumed that the bad guys knew exactly what each programmer was doing and how it could fit into their own needs, that they could just grab that code and seamlessly fit it into their own project, and of course they would record all the crimes on video for posterity was just far too gone for belief. It's hard enough to combine code from more than one programmer when they are working on the same project, let alone disparate people working on their own things. And if you could just look at a block of code and say, "that's what we need to plug in here," then why wouldn't you also be capable of writing it yourself? You'd have to know what that code did well enough to decide it could just plug in, which of course it never would.
I went on at length about the computer end of the story, but the same problem permeates the rest of the film. Implausibility meets unconvincing performances to create no willing suspension of disbelief. I didn't believe the story, so I couldn't identify with it. Of course it didn't help that I couldn't identify with our hero, played by Ryan Phillipe, who looks like he'd be more at home singing with N'Sync than playing the lead in a suspense thriller. Even the actors who I usually like, such as Tim Robbins, were seemingly just phoning the whole thing in. Nothing was convincing from any of the characters.
In the end, I found AntiTrust to be poorly written and portrayed, and unconvincing in its entirety. In short, the film isn't good. The DVD presentation is fine, so if you disagree with me on the film's merits, then buy away. Otherwise consider this piece of digital information vaporware.
I find the film guilty of failing to live up to the promise of suspense and thrills the story wishes to offer. MGM is acquitted for their work on the DVD, but how in the world can this film get so much when so many classic titles in their catalog get only a trailer? Get your priorities straight, please.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Commentary Track
* Deleted Scenes
* Music Video