Thursday, March 05, 2015

Hacker’s Game: Young Cyber Activists in Love

The internet is not forever, as a recent New Yorker piece on digital archiving makes abundantly clear. Yes, there is always the nefarious deleting, like the Russian-backed paramilitary commander, who tried to memory hole a tweet bragging about shooting down what turned out to be Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Yet, more often than not, it is a question of hosts going out of business and links becoming corrupted. BL Reputation Management can hasten the process with a little scrubbing and a bit of astro-turfing here and there. Their latest recruit is particularly skillful at navigating the twilight regions of the web, but one of the parties might be getting more than they bargained for in Cyril Morin’s Hacker’s Game (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

Soyan did not hack into BL’s system cleanly enough to escape discovery, but his work was sufficiently skillful to convince the company to offer him a job in lieu of prosecution. Company chairman Russel Belial and his right hand femme fatale, Lena Leibovitz, will keep the hacker on a short leash, but it is not like he had much of a personal life anyway. The one promising development is his ambiguous friendship (and possibly romance), with fellow hacker Loise. They met on a rooftop catching open wifi signals. She has skills too, which she utilizes on behalf of human rights NGOs, but frankly she prefers ink-and-paper over digital alternatives. Yet, the somewhat immature Soyan manages to woo her (to an extent) with a virtual chess game.

There is a ton of backstory in Game, including the reported exploits of Angela King, a mysterious cyber activist who sounds like a cross between Edward Snowden and Neo in the Matrix trilogy. Somehow Soyan, Loise, and BL are all somehow involved in the wider intrigue, but Morin takes forever to close the loop—even though we can largely guess the broad strokes from the get-go. It just seems like an awful lot of the film consists of Loise and Soyan sitting next to each other, wearing VR visors, thereby preventing any real intimate chemistry from developing.

There are a few intriguing elements sprinkled throughout, including the highly ambiguous portrayal of Loise’s former do-gooder employer. Cinematographer Romain Wilhelm fittingly evokes the dark, murky look of the classic 1970s conspiracy thrillers. Strangely though, Morin’s screenplay never really taps into the current zeitgeist, mostly just feeling like another warmed over serving of anti-corporate paranoia.

Be that as it may, there is something strangely compelling about Pom Klementieff’s Loise. Even her halting delivery of the English dialogue seems to work in context. On the other hand, she and Chris Schellenger (with his anemic mustache and goat patch beard) never look like a believable couple. Prop specialist-turned character actor King Orba has some nice moments as Belial, the villain who maybe sort of believes his own rhetoric. However, the rest of the supporting ensemble gets to be quite a source of adventure, producing some awkward line readings and plenty of general dramatic clunkiness.

Arguably, Hacker’s Game would have been more interesting if it depicted BL in more ambiguous terms. In all honesty, it is not hard to think of circumstances for relatively decent customers to seek out there services, like the CEO who married a long retired porn star mentioned early in the film. A little over a century ago, people could restart their lives by moving to the frontier, but that is no longer an option in the digital age. Regardless, Klementieff is probably due to breakout internationally, but this just isn’t the film to do it. Despite some style points, it is just too slowly paced and too logically-challenged. For the hardcore net neutrality fanatics, it opens tomorrow (3/6) in Los Angeles at the Arena Cinema.