Enemies Of The State Review TIFF 2020

The Plot

A documentary following a seemingly ordinary American family from Indiana entangled in a bizarre web of secrets and lies after their son became a target of major U.S. government attention due to his allegedly criminal online activities, making them all in effect ‘Enemies Of the State’.

The Good

Enemies of The State is a very slickly polished production which delves headfirst into a murky online world exploding into mainstream public consciousness during the era of WikiLeaks and digital activist groups like Anonymous.

Pieced together from a well-crafted combination of dramatic re-enactments and actual in depth interview footage with the family and those connected with all aspects of their journey, it is a fully immersive portrait of Matthew Dehart and the world he inhabited.

What’s perhaps most important is that the film doesn’t merely promote a signal view of a complex case, or allow itself to serve purely as a form of propaganda for a particular political agenda. The film doesn’t shy away from presenting that the full range of allegations against Matt Dehart and presenting both sides of that story with absolutely equal vigour.

The film may be a documentary but at times, propelled by an ominous soundtrack and brooding visuals, it plays out more unashamedly like a wildly fantastic spy thriller that devolves gradually into a gritty crime drama.

The fact that it’s so well documented and coherently evidenced offer potential weight and credibility to at least some of the allegations made by the Dehart family. However the film is more mature and circumspect in reflecting on the evolving evidence in the case ultimately forcing audiences to confront their own preconceptions of guilt and innocence.

While showcasing the critical voices in the film about Dehart’s alleged treatment and the actions of government officials in pursing his case, it also presents enthusiastic argument that Dehart’s actions were legitimately illegal and his case mostly unconnected with any grand conspiracy.

The Bad

While the film offers a compelling documentation of one families journey it likely won’t change the wider opinions audiences will already have about the controversial subject matter of digital activism that ‘leaks’ confidential documents in the supposed greater public interest. Many people will instantly dismiss any legal pressure or consequence suffered by individuals even loosely involved in those actives as entirely self-inflicted.

For many people no matter what allegations of torture or unlawful abuse are levelled on the US government it will be swiftly dismissed as a justified response to deliberate actions of people choosing to deliberately break the law under the guise of ‘journalism’ or other forms of sell styled cyber activism.

It will be particularly easy in this instance for people wanting to dismiss any supposed concerns Matt Dehart’s case may raise by focusing on the fact he was supposedly guilty of online grooming and sexual abuse of minors in addition to his work with the loosely defined online entity Anonymous. These child pornography charges make it immediately harder to generate any meaningful sympathy for Dehart, whatever their actual validity.

Though the documentary works hard to show the family’s persistent outspoken belief that these are false charges politically motivated for national security reasons, it also features the FBI agent involved in those charges articulating them equally strongly and with apparent evidence.

Those charges combined with the family’s involvement with the US military and their admitted contact with foreign governments makes the case against Dehart far more complicated than a simple debate about the merits of whistleblowing. Though the film is fully self-aware of this fact, it may disappoint those hoping this film will purely serve as a critique of the US government and defence of heroic activists.

The Ugly Truth

Enemies of The State is a totally riveting piece of documentary cinema that captures a deeply complex portrait of the reality behind the often dramatized and sensationalised online world we now inhabit. It challenges audiences to ask difficult question about who to truly believe in confusing highly publicized and politicised cases such as this. This is must watch viewing for anyone who has previously found themselves hooked on Making A Murderer or films such as The Imposter.

Review by Russell Nelson

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