What would you do if someone told you the FBI was listening to them? Maybe you’d think they were delusional, or write them off as a conspiracy theorist. Many people would. For Matt DeHart it wasn’t just paranoia; he was telling the truth. From director Sonia Kennebeck, Enemies of State is a stylistic and utterly enthralling documentary about a man trying to evade the eyes of the FBI.
Matt DeHart is known for his role in the Anonymous hacker group and his connections to Wiki Leaks. In 2010, he received classified documents supposedly exposing serious wrongdoings within the CIA. From that moment on, Matt and his family were caught up in a strange network of lies. Matt alleges that he was tortured by the FBI over the files and belief that he sold the information to the Russian government. He and his family were self-professed patriots – all serving in the military in one way or another – but now, they don’t even trust their own government. They describe how they live in constant fear of being watched.
The film opens with an Oscar Wilde quote that perfectly encapsulates the events: “The truth is rarely pure and never simple”. Truth is never black and white, it is tainted by biases and agendas. Kennebeck does a good job of showing this. The layers of the story reflect the complexity of truth perfectly. She never comes down hard on one side or another and allows the information to speak for itself.
The secretive nature of the story leaves a lot to the imagination, but through re-enactments, interviews and archive footage, Kennebeck has crafted a film that grips you tightly from start to finish.
One of the most fascinating parts of this film is its portrayal of the court scenes. There is no video recording of the actual events, but there is audio. In the film, these scenes feature actors staging the court scenes and lip-syncing to real-life audio. It is done so well that you could almost believe it was real. It is an incredibly creative way to show us what happened with limited access to footage.
The problem with Enemies of State lies in its treatment of a child porn case against Matt DeHart. It is introduced partway through the film and completely changes the tone of the story. Understandably, many of the details around the classified files and the FBI are speculative or from someone with a clear bias (like Matt’s family). This makes sense because the truth is hard to get to when no one knows anything for sure.
However, it’s frustrating to see the allegations of grooming by Matt treated with the same kind of speculation. The case has substantial evidence to suggest Matt is guilty, but it is discussed with the same level of uncertainty as the rest of the story. This undermines the seriousness of the charges against him and the experiences of the boys involved. The case is necessary to the plot, but ultimately, it should have been handled better.
Enemies of State is definitely a film for the crime junkies out there. It may not be perfect, but there is no denying how intriguing and completely fascinating it is.
Feature image credit: Codebreaker films