Anti-TrustThursday 03 May 2001
Directed by Peter Howitt, starring Ryan Phillippe, Tim Robbins, Rachel Leigh Cook and Claire Forlani
Having just graduated from college, computer wunderkind Milo Hoffman (Phillippe) launches a start-up with some friends. Milo's team are champions of open source and feel that they're one step away from software history. But their garage-based exploits haven't gone un-noticed: Gary Winston (Robbins), head of the giant NURV (Never Underestimate Radical Vision) corporation, sees Milo as the missing link in his development team for SYNAPSE, a program that will link all digital technologies worldwide. Flattered by Winston's interest and convinced that he can give NURV a heart transplant, Milo joins up. But he soon discovers that Winston's vision for the future is competition free.
With its bright spark hero selling out to a leading company, a shady boss masquerading as a father figure and temptation in the form of a co-worker (Leigh Cook as a troubled designer), 'Anti-Trust' could be regarded as 'The Firm' with email. But while US critics have slammed the far-fetched nature of Howitt's film (Winston's house is easier to burgle than your average sweetshop), they seem to have largely ignored the fact that the film carries a 12's or PG certificate. It's a conspiracy thriller, teen style with glamorous cast, rock soundtrack and hardware aplenty, but once you accept that you're not watching 'The Spanish Prisoner' 'Anti-Trust' proves to be good fun.
To Howitt and scriptwriter Howard Franklin's credit, they've done their homework: enlisting help from computer luminaries such as Linus Torvalds and Miguel de Icaza and scoring numerous rabbit punches on corporate targets with NURV's slogan and adverts. Robbins has the squint and bowl haircut just right as techie Fuhrer Winston, his ra-ra speeches offering a sense of family to minions who were probably too busy playing with their computers as kids to come down to the dinner table in the first place. The scenes between himself and Phillippe are well-handled, unfortunately there's just not enough of them. And that's Anti-Trust's biggest problem: like Winston, it doesn't know when it's ahead – rather than explore the master and minion relationship in greater depth it devotes too much time to Leigh Cook's dour, unbelievable character and even Forlani is relegated to a bit part in her screen boyfriend Phillippe's life.
The character holes are glossed over with some edgy set pieces and by the finale you'll find yourself wondering whether a geek with a modem can change the world or whether he'll be dispatched by his paymaster to the great server in the sky. It won't win any Oscars but it might make 14-year-olds wonder whether it's really worth spending life in front of a screen.