×

Film Review: ‘Anonymous’

Callan McAuliffe stars in an uninspired thriller offering even the minimally computer-literate viewer few insights into the world of hacktivism.

With:
Callan McAuliffe, Lorraine Nicholson, Daniel Eric Gold, Clifton Collins Jr. (English dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3173594/

It’s difficult to make the act of hacking cinematic. Not just visually — endless shots of faces frowning at computer screens displaying gibberish code — but on a storytelling level as well. The work of a skilled hacker can lead to devastating effects, but the act itself is not particularly dramatic, except to other hackers who might find the details interesting, even instructive. If that’s the niche-y audience Kazakh director Akan Satayev is going for with “Anonymous” (which is not affiliated with the real-world collective that shares its name, though it doubtless would like you to think it is), it’s a miscalculation: Anyone who’s seen even a lesser episode of “Mr Robot” will likely have learned much more than what’s on offer here. And if this film were meant to entertain general audiences, then the question becomes: “Why so dull?”

Michael Mann’s “Blackhat,” for example, at least set its hacktion against a backdrop of international espionage with literally nuclear ramifications. By contrast, “Anonymous” plods through a low-stakes tale that’s almost frictionlessly insulated against real-world consequences. Here, rising star Callan McAuliffe (“I Am Number Four,” “The Stanford Prison Experiment”) plays Alex, the only child of an immigrant family which, in a couple of emblematic scenes of domestic strife and a lot of expository voice-over, is shown to face years of mortgage-related struggle. When his hardworking mother is fired from her job at a local bank Alex, who has been saving college money via his dubious but basically legal online job as a “clicker,” bails the family out, but finds himself in dire need of cash.

He signs up on “Dark Web,” an ill-defined mashup of a hacktivist collective and the, um, dark web. After a rather simple initiation that involves a phishing attack on a high-school bully — whose sickest burn is to call Ukrainian émigré Alex “Dostoevsky” at one point — Alex is instantly off fencing dubiously acquired electrical goods and jewelry. He’s not particularly good at it, but conveniently he happens to meet small-time grifter Sye (Daniel Eric Gold), who is. They go into shady business together, all thoughts of college forgotten, and become best friends. But trouble awaits in the form of Kira (Lorraine Nicholson, daughter of Jack), herself an expert hacker who joins the gang with a secret agenda of her own.

Somewhere along the way, we’re supposed to start to care about these three white-bread characters, but it’s hard to know when, as for the most part they seem to be motivated only by money, with occasional attacks of anti-establishment rhetoric punctuating their high-living ways, largely financed via epic credit-card fraud. (The predicament of Alex’s family offers him an initial reason for an anti-corporate stance, but he conveniently forgets about that for large swathes of the film.)

The trio’s globetrotting allows Satayev and DP Pasha Patriki, whose polished, anodyne visuals are the very definition of anonymous, to collect shots of their attractive young stars frowning at computer screens and playing dress-up in all sorts of different locales, from suburban Canada to Toronto to Bangkok to Hong Kong to New York. But the biggest locations budget in the world couldn’t compensate for the blandness of the writing and the rote, generic filmmaking. Ironically, although Satayev uses every filmic device in the book to over-explain the simplistic plot — faux-cynical voice-over, onscreen titles/texts, maddeningly obvious scoring cues — it often feels like “Anonymous” doesn’t actually want to be a film at all, it has so little sense of the real potential of the medium.

For no discernible reason (a clause that could modify almost every one of the film’s plot points) Alex’s endgame is to meet the “leader” of Dark Web. This is a nonsense invention, even before said leader turns out to be a wheelchair-bound burns-victim megalomaniac played by a mercifully unrecognizable Clifton Collins Jr. Like so much else in in the movie, the mere existence of this ridiculous character suggests that the filmmakers’ grasp on the arcane, many-headed hydra of internet criminality is tenuous at best and fatally passé at worst. “Anonymous” may be a film about modern, high-level, cutting-edge hacking, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that if it had a password it would be “password.”

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Anonymous'

Reviewed online, Berlin, Nov. 23, 2016. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 95 MIN. (Original title: “Hacker”)

Production: (U.S.-Thailand-Kazakhstan-Hong Kong-Canada) A Sataifilm presentation of a Skylight Picture Works and Hacker Prods. production, in association with Brillstein Entertainment Partners. Producers: Sanzhar Sultan, Akan Satayev. Executive producers: Timur Meirambekov, Kenges Rakishev, Zhanbolat Serikov, Jai Khanna, Loudon Owen.

Crew: Director: Akan Satayev. Screenplay: Sanzhar Sultan, Timur Zhaxylykov. Camera (color): Pasha Patriki. Editor: Alex Márquez.

With: Callan McAuliffe, Lorraine Nicholson, Daniel Eric Gold, Clifton Collins Jr. (English dialogue)

More Film

  • Yoji Yamada-directed film is to open

    Tokyo Market: Shochiku Launches Horror, Comedy and Mystery Lineup

    Major Japanese studio, Shochiku has the honor of leading off next week’s Tokyo International Film Festival with its “Tora-san, Wish You Were Here.” The film is a revival of a beloved in-house drama franchise, directed by veteran Yoji Yamada, that is set as the event’s opening night gala presentation. Before that, the company has the [...]

  • The Truth

    Singapore Festival to Focus on Asian Excellence for 30th Edition

    For its 30th edition the Singapore International Film Festival has avoided programming novelty and instead focused on assembling excellence – mostly indie titles — from Asia and further afield. The festival, which previously announced local filmmaker Anthony Chen’s second feature “Wet Season” as its opening night gala presentation, announced the balance of its programming on [...]

  • Isabela Moner Dora the Explorer

    Film News Roundup: Isabela Merced Boards Jason Momoa's 'Sweet Girl' for Netflix

    In today’s film news roundup, Isabela Merced get cast opposite Jason Momoa, “Starbright” gets financing and AFM announces its speakers. CASTING Isabela Merced, formerly Isabela Moner, has come on board to portray the daughter of Jason Momoa in his upcoming revenge thriller “Sweet Girl” for Netflix. Momoa will play a devastated man who vows to [...]

  • Walt Disney HQ LA

    Disney Seeks to Throw Out Gender Pay Gap Lawsuit

    The Walt Disney Co. is seeking to throw out a lawsuit alleging that women employees are paid less than men, arguing that the suit is too sprawling and unwieldy to handle as a class action. Andrus Anderson LLP filed the suit in April, alleging that Disney’s hiring and pay practices have a discriminatory effect on [...]

  • Ford v Ferrari

    Christian Bale, Matt Damon to Campaign in Lead Actor Category for 'Ford v Ferrari'

    Christian Bale and Matt Damon will both campaign in the lead actor category for awards for their work in Fox’s upcoming “Ford v Ferrari,” Variety has learned. “Ford v Ferrari” follows an eccentric, determined team of American engineers and designers, led by automotive visionary Carroll Shelby (Damon) and his British driver, Ken Miles (Bale), who [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content