Review: Investigative doc 'Enemies of the State' sends conflicting message
Courtesy of IFC Films
Directed by Sonia Kennebeck and produced by prominent documentarian, Errol Morris, “Enemies of the State” has pedigree most investigative docs lack with immaculate, if misguided, attention to detail. Featuring plenty of archival footage, engaging reenactments, and talking head testimonials that tell the story of self-proclaimed Anonymous hacktivist, Matthew DeHart, who was convicted on child pornography charges, claims of being targeted by the US Government for trying to blow the whistle on several high profile incidents through Anonymous chat boards. In what amounts to essentially a spy thriller minus the star power, “Enemies of the State” sends mixed signals about the way misinformation clogs the airwaves and paints a confusing picture. Are we supposed to believe DeHart’s plea that he was set-up? Or was this really a sick man exploiting the system? In any case, “Enemies of the State” doesn’t have the “must-see” status others in the genre have manifested.
One of the few investigative docs that’s not gearing up for a Netflix release (the streamer rebirthed documentaries for mass consumption), “Enemies of the State” is certainly made with urgency, even if the film doesn’t move the needle. The centerpiece sequence which holds the film together is a nifty filmmaking feat as Kennebeck reenacts DeHart’s refugee hearing in Canada with the actual audio dubbed over the actors’ mouths. It’s also one of the first indications, after hearing numerous testimony from DeHart’s parents and confidants, that perhaps his story of being framed by the CIA isn’t all it's cracked up to be. Even as district attorneys chime in with the findings of the child pornography case, Kennebeck is still interested in tackling DeHart’s side of the story. But if the audience already believes, even for a second, DeHart did the crimes he was accused of, why should the viewer stay engaged? The late breaking reveals that recontextualize the entire documentary throws a wrench in an already confusing odyssey.
Kennebeck doesn’t dig deeper into the dark web accusations and how Anonymous grew from 4Chan, an illegal site known for peddling child pornography and, if you watched the riveting HBO doc “Into the Storm,” is still actively spreading disinformation on numerous topics including the election and vaccines. But unlike that slice of engaging journalism, “Enemies of the State” awkwardly provides a platform which may have its intentions in the right place, but there’s more to discuss in terms of Anonymous outreach that Kennebeck never explores, resulting in a well-made though ultimately tame documentary.
ENEMIES OF THE STATE opens in select theaters and on-demand Friday, July 30th