Where the hell is Will Smith when you need him?
Conspiracy theory docs are a dime a dozen these days. Films spotlighting real-life cases featuring people who claim that government-run organizations are out to get them are nothing new and its been eons since institutions such as the FBI and the CIA could be considered widely-trusted by the public at large. Still, their sinister, “stop at nothing” reputations have made for a bevy of films and documentaries which prey on the public’s fear of being controlled (and possibly even erased) by such a powerful unseen enemy. This week adds another similar documentary to the genre with the release of Enemies of the State. Based on the real life case involving hacker Matt Dehart, the film attempts to uncover the truth behind Matt and his parents (Leann and Paul), a seemingly normal family whose son came into possession of materials on his secret server which were so sensitive, it caused them to flee the country.
Enemies of the State has a lot going for it, including plenty of the staples which make conspiracy docs so absorbing. There’s claims of shady behavior by powerful institutions, there’s odd action and moves made by those being accused and those doing the accusing, there’s the promise of some juicy revelation about just what exactly is on the file that suddenly appeared on Matt’s secret server and its eventual tie-in to the Wikileaks era. Enemies of the State even has a moderately intriguing figure at the center in Matt; an individual running for his life, who is framed, detained and tortured all while maintaining his innocence about being the source of the materials himself.
Despite all of these necessary components present and accounted for, it seems as if director Sonia Kennebeck (a proven documentarian) didn’t know how to properly use them. Told in a rather jumbled up order, Enemies of the State does a messy job of chronicling events and making dates and facts so hard to get straight, that the conspiracy element almost gets lost when trying to discern what year in the story we’re in. The angle the doc promises to take, how an average American family started running for their lives because of the actions of their son, is strong enough to pull one in; but the intrigue ends there as plenty of people, including Leann and Paul themselves, rhapsodize about how untrustworthy these institutions are in ways which leave us saying, eyebrows raised: “Yeah…we kind of know that by now.”
Enemies of the State at least has an involving enough recreation element to it with actors standing in for interviewers, authorities, witnesses and the Dehart family themselves, lip synching to recorded phone conversations and interrogations. It’s a touch that adds some spark to what is otherwise a lifeless tale of supposed real-life conspiracy. In the documentary world, whistleblowers are rock stars and the likes of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden are household names. It takes something really earth shatteringly compelling to try and compete with stories such as theirs. But with the puzzling missteps of not delving further into the specifics of the content Matt was originally sent or getting the main subject himself for an interview, the effort of telling the Dehart family’s story is all for nothing.