Enemies Of The State


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Enemies Of The State
"Almost everybody here is hiding something - sometimes from themselves." | Photo: Courtesy of Glasgow Film Festival

In January 2010, then 25-year-old hacker Matt DeHart discovered that he had come to the attention of the authorities. His family home was searched by police officers who removed every piece of computing equipment they could find after determining that he may be in possession of child pornography. Cases like this are not especially rare, but what followed was a bizarre and complex series of events which included an attempt to seek asylum in the Russian embassy, a desperate drive across the border to Canada, claims about espionage and secret documents, imprisonment and alleged torture - with Matt's military veteran parents intervening so persistently that concerns were expressed about their influence over their adult son's mind.

This is the tangled web which Sonia Kennebeck attempts to unravel in her latest documentary, which involved years of research, interviewing, tracking down records and even going to court to seek access to restricted information. Perhaps the most striking thing about the case is that very few people besides Kennebeck herself seem to have an interest in the truth. Almost everybody here is hiding something - sometimes from themselves.

The human factor in the story lies with the DeHart family themselves. One wonders why Matt was still living with his parents at that age, and why they were still treating him like a young child, not only in their determination to do everything for him (up to and including accompanying him to FBI interviews) but in their certainty that he couldn't have committed the crimes against teenage boys of which he was accused. The boys themselves are thankfully kept out of the film, having been exposed to plenty of hostile comment already, except in one brief sequence addressing Matt's apparent attempt to contact one of them from prison whilst pretending to be someone else, but a description of the charges read by the original investigating officer leaves no room for sympathetic interpretation of Matt's actions. Matt, however, claims that he was framed, and there seems to be a significant possibility that whether or not there's any truth to that claim, there were other reasons why the FBI decided to pursue him.

Assorted possibilities emerge from the material that Kennebeck has assembled. The dark web, where Matt spent much of his time, is equally appealing to predatory paedophiles and high minded whistle-blowers, so it wouldn't be surprising to find some overlap between the two, at least in terms of access to information. Grooming offences, however, correlate strongly with a more general tendency to try and manipulate others, and with fantasist behaviour. Perhaps the most tragic aspect of the case is that it suggests that funding for investigation is far more readily available in response to concerns about potential embarrassment of the government than when the concerns is the protection of children.

With a lot of twists and turns packed into an hour and 43 minutes, Enemies Of The State is dense to the point where it can be difficult to follow. More problematically, it's rather dry. The matter of fact approach taken in the interviews (even where the facts themselves are far from certain) may have been a good way to extract information and to balance the tone but, though it provides moments of deadpan comedy which the interviews probably did not intend, it leaves something of an emotional void in the film. Without much reason to invest in the story beyond wanting to solve the puzzle, viewers who have not previously bought into the political hype around the case may find themselves unwilling to make the effort. For those who find themselves drawn to puzzles, however, there's plenty here to think about. Kennebeck herself is, at the time of writing, continuing to investigate.

In many ways more interesting for its structure than its content, this is a timely film, ultimately raising questions about how we navigate in a world where truth is difficult to pin down.

Reviewed on: 24 Feb 2021
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Enemies Of The State packshot
When their hacker son is targeted by the US Government, the DeHarts will do anything to protect him.

Director: Sonia Kennebeck

Year: 2020

Runtime: 103 minutes

Country: US

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