Algorithm (2014): Bad Acting of No Consequence
“Most people have no idea what a hacker can do. I make the world you live in, and I can reshape that world if I feel like it,” says the main character as the movie Algorithm begins.
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Self-described Hacker Luser is an information libertarian. He doesn’t care about politics, he doesn’t care about the acquisition of wealth. His primary drive in life is based on the original hacker ethos: information should be free. To supplement his humble lifestyle in San Francisco, Luser – Will Stevens – does contract work for everyday people. A man wanting to find out about his wife cheating on him hires him, and this leads him to a high-profile CTO of an NSA contractor, which leads him to download a slew of programs, most notably one called “Shepard,” which we later find out is a futuristic, all-seeing, all-powerful tracking program.
Written and directed by Jonathan Schiefer, the film leaves a lot to be desired in terms of acting. The emotional responses of the actors are often underplayed, and there is little or no chemistry between any of the characters. For instance, near the end, when Luser and Pseudonym and Hash are all about to go away to a secret prison, Bitchan, Luser’s near-girlfriend whom he appears to have known for fifteen years, only asks why the Decimate gave them up and silently cries. It would seem that if Luser was really as important to her as she earlier states, she would have a greater reaction – especially in terms of hatred toward Decimate.
Throughout the film, there is an ambient music which gives one the feeling of learning something very important. If you were to click over to something else, you might think a documentary was taking place. Additionally, the whole thing is narrated by Luser. The production could have done a lot more showing than telling.
The scene where Hash, the code-oriented hacker, is extracted from Pseudonym’s bar, called Radius, is way undercooked. It could have been the most dramatic moment of the movie. Instead, it’s silent, and the girl who is knocked over is obviously not that troubled by it – even though she appears to be trying to act as if she is. All of this fails to convey the importance of this event to the overall plot.
The real movie part of this movie is how Luser, played by Chris Panzera, goes to all his friends for help all the time. Except for one time, he doesn’t offer them any compensation, and so it’s unclear why these people are safe to talk to – and this would seem a big no-no for a serious hacker. Hackers are naturally paranoid people, prone to trust nothing and no one. It appears that this whole group of people just freely talks about their highly illegal activities with abandon throughout. Given the other realistic tendencies of the film – all done in real locations in San Francisco – it is not asking too much to expect a more realistic leaning in regard to the security culture of Luser and Hash and Pseudonym.
The best acting in the whole movie is by the agent whose apparent job is to release prisoners and be nice to them. He comes off as the most authentic character, played by John Gilligan.
The premise is that Decimate provides a gig for Luser in the role of a private investigator for a man who believes his wife is cheating on him. The whole thing later turns out to be a setup, though this is never actually explored. The person the wife is cheating on her husband with is the CTO of a major NSA contractor, and through hacking this man, Luser comes upon some serious surveillance programs. Later, it is Decimate who turns Luser in, after Luser has freed his friend Hash by counterfeiting a “prisoner transfer” document. This scene is done wrong, as well, since it would seem that if the prisoner is being transferred he would at least be doing so in chains.
“Don’t you believe in anything?” Luser asks Decimate the night before everyone goes away to prison.
“Survival. […] You either play the game and thrive, or fight, and lose. I don’t lose,” says the douchey friend who gave him the password to access the program in the first place – which should have been a red flag. Decimate also works for “governments and multi-national corporations.” In this reviewer’s experience, unfortunately, Decimate is the norm among security professionals: ego-driven and self-centered.
In the end, we find out that the customer who supposedly wanted to find out about his cheating wife also works for the bad guys. After twenty days of intense interrogation, Luser is released to the care of his friends, and this man attempts to recruit Luser. The movie ends before we find out whether or not he cooperates.
In all, I rate this movie slightly higher than the IMDB (currently 5.9 out of 10). I’ll give it a 6.5 out of 10. While the acting could have been a lot better, the story has an authentic feeling to it – it does not seem so far-fetched anymore that the government would go to these lengths to find and hire the best security researchers out there. It could have done better in its attempt at the polemic, where Luser reveals the activities of a random person using the Shepard program, but the explanation of real software like Tor and even the questioning of whether Tor is vulnerable or not gets it major geek points.
You can watch Algorithm for free. Enjoy.
Images from Algorithm.