Anonymous follows the exploits of one Alex Danyliuk (Callan McAuliffe), a young Ukrainian immigrant living in suburban Canada. He eks out a meager living for his struggling immigrant family as a rising computer programmer, subsequent hacker, and reluctant global terrorist. Inspired by his early involvement in the nefarious underworld of online crime and identity theft as an active participant in the fictional global conglomerate known in the film as Dark Web, Alex soon finds himself in a fairly enviable and dangerous position.
Dedicated to defrauding the national bank that left his mother unemployed and financially destitute, Alex forms a partnership with local urban hustler Sye (Daniel Eric Gold), and together the two fast friends begin capitalizing on their collaborative skills in black market trading. However, the two accidentally bite off more than they can chew, and become attached to an FBI mole named Kira (Lorraine Nicholson), who surreptitiously helps them reach the enigmatic leader of the Dark Web named Zed (Clifton Collins Jr.).
There is plenty of social and political intrigue to be explored in the world of modern online crime and computer hacking, credit card and identity theft, and global chaos in the financial market, and certain TV shows and films have managed to get at some of those issues reasonably well in the past. Unfortunately, Anonymous treats the subject without any of the subtlety or surface level understanding required of what is a thoroughly beguiling and opaque problem.
Anarchy vs. Capitalism
At the heart of director Akan Satayev‘s latest film is the perennial confrontation between anarchy and capitalism. Alex’s desire to throw banking institutions into chaos on a global financial level stems from his own righteous rage against the very same people who kept his own nuclear unit in the red for years on end. Accordingly, his involvement with online crime and identity theft appears sympathetic at first glance. Like the other popular computer hacker of the current moment portrayed by Rami Malek on the USA Network original series Mr. Robot, Alex’s plight is fraught with a deeply personal hurt.
But unlike Elliot Alderson, Alex feels like a sappy opportunist, not a fundamentally tortured political agitator. Malek is also a far more experienced performer than McAuliffe, whose former professional integrity brings a certain gravitas to the surrounding melodrama. Fundamentally, Anonymous and Mr. Robot tell the same basic story. Except Satayev lounges in comfortable clichés while Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail revels in surreal romantic excursions.
In Mr. Robot, the hacker collectivist group founded by Elliot moves forward with a ruthless dedication. Meanwhile, Dark Web in Anonymous never feels like an organization of co-conspirators. Satayev flirts with the idealism of anarchy as most adolescents are wont to do at a certain point of financial co-dependence or destitution, but ultimately opts for the very same status quo that his protagonist is ostensibly fighting to overthrow throughout his film. This impotent confrontation between two socially important ideals makes Anonymous into a half-baked statement on a very real problem deserving of a far better feature film.
Perhaps the largest shortcoming in Anonymous comes in the central focus on lead protagonist Alex Danyliuk. His story is told primarily through the consistently intrusive voice-over narration technique that has proven to be an anathema to the filmmaking industry in the past. Instead of humanizing Alex, the presence of his own inner monologue reveals the ineptitude of Satayev as a visual director. None of the scenes or sequences ever carry that much weight, because instead of allowing the viewer to intuit what is going on and how they are supposed to feel about it, every action is explicitly explained as if one were reading the rap sheet for the film’s depicted crimes.
Mr. Robot also features voice-over narration, but due to the untrustworthy nature of Elliot’s respective psychosis, the show never really lets viewers definitively know what’s going on. Everything is up in the air and morally fraught in Mr. Robot, whereas Alex’s actions in Anonymous are abundantly diagnosed from the get-go. Alex is a capricious usurper to the throne of his capitalist rulers, and his revolution is a short lived adolescent fantasy.
Satayev has gone on record to state that the real life hacker upon whose life the film’s script is based on also served time in prison for crimes perpetrated during the heat of youthful idleness, before going on to run his own independent and family-owned business. Alex likewise enjoys the thrill of subversive revolt, only to mature into a submissive adult who has learned something about the nature of the way the world works. Where Mr. Robot bridles at any acquiescence to corruption, however comfortable it might seem, Anonymous gently pokes holes at the fundamental act of revolution as a childish endeavor better left to the inconsequential throes of an immature past.
Anonymous mocks the idealism of anarchy by way of a ridiculously romantic depiction of online crime, computer hacking, and identity theft. As a result, the movie feels like a teen rom-com version of the far more dramatically weighted drama series Mr. Robot, a comparison that mars its intentions however unfairly matched the two respective productions undoubtedly are.
It will be some time before anyone definitively diagnoses the ills of global financial corruption and the separatist groups and collectives that seek to throw the entire system into chaos. On that note, it was almost impossible that Anonymous would manage in its task of making a lighthearted independent drama out of what is a very real and insurmountably esoteric institution.
Satayev was right in his intuition to make a movie about the world of computer hacking, but lacked the wherewithal to fully critique its strengths and weaknesses without resorting to simplistic caricature and parental condescension.
What are your thoughts on online crime and identity theft? What aspects of the issue would you like to see further addressed in film?
Anonymous is currently playing in theaters in the U.S. Find international release dates here.
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