“The truth is rarely pure and never simple”. The sentence opens Enemies of the State. A suitable sentence underlies the documentary, as a medium that aims to describe reality (although subjectivity and bias are impossible to eliminate). Truth has many faces, and through this film, director Sonia Kennebeck tries to explore the truth, while giving meaning to the definition of truth itself.
His story is reminiscent of The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (2014), another documentary on a similar theme. The central figure is named Matt DeHart, which the public may often juxtapose with Aaron Swartz to Edward Snowden. He is a former intelligence analyst at the ANG (Air National Guard), who claims to be persecuted by the FBI, slandered on false charges of child pornography. Best Movie Site
DeHart, along with his parents, Paul and Leann who both had served in the military, sought asylum in Canada as a result of the case. They believe the false accusations were made by the United States government, in order to target the secret documents that leaked into DeHart’s hands. That said, the document was uploaded to a server owned by DeHart, who is also a member of the hacking group Anonymous, and is suspected of having involvement with WikiLeaks.
The case is complex, but at first glance, the truth sounds simple. Matt DeHart is another activist that the government is trying to eradicate due to its struggle to uncover the facts. We hear the stories of Paul and Leann, as well as the neutral opinions of experts and journalists. It all led to one conclusion: Matt DeHart was slandered.
Then parties such as prosecutors and investigators began to raise their voices, revealing points about allegations of child pornography, which made Enemies of the State appear not as simple as it seems. Because again, the truth is never simple. The further the story goes, Matt’s appropriateness to hold the status of “truth defender whistleblower” is also questioned, because he has never revealed anything. Moreover, there were rumors that Matt actually intended to sell the document to other countries, instead of making it public.
The film manages to offer complexity, in that there are three possible scenarios: 1) Matt is a whistleblower; 2) Matt is a child abuser; 3) All correct. Complexity is expressed, about the absence of a truly clean human being. A person can be a hero in one issue, as well as a patient in another. Movie Review
Technically, Enemies of the State is also solid, where Kennebeck composes several forms of re-enactment, both using the original sound recording, and based on official trial transcripts. This re-enactment is certainly nothing new in documentaries. It seems obligatory, but its existence is useful in keeping the story from being monotonous.
Speaking of storytelling, unfortunately the way Kennebeck composes the narrative is the biggest problem for this film. The structure is messy. Trying to digest the timeline is a very confusing process, as the film repeatedly jumps back and forth at will. The audience’s perception of the case has the potential to be chaotic.
Not to mention that there is an ambition from the filmmaker to say, “Look, this case is astounding and full of surprises!”. From the beginning, what was used as a weapon were statements from sources who said, “This case is very strange!”, “This case takes conspiracy theories to a higher level!”, “This case is full of surprises!”, and the like. The audience’s curiosity about how surprising the facts really are continues to be provoked.
The problem is, that approach contradicts the substance of his story about the “complexity of truth” which was well-constructed at the beginning. When answer after answer is revealed, the shock is not much, because the audience has been used to doubt everything.
Enemies of the State closed with a statement, which essentially reads, “If we want to live in a world that contains the truth, there must be an evaluation as new facts emerge, we must also be willing to change our point of view if the facts prove to be correct”. A message that is very relevant in this era of cancel culture. The point is not a recommendation to remain silent or to be passive in the name of “waiting for clarification on both sides”, but to be open-minded, willing to correct perspectives if we are wrong. If only the film focused on the meaning of it instead of selling twists. Top Movie