Online anonymity is a blessing and a curse in Who Am I — No System Is Safe, a hacking-themed suspenser from The Silence director Baran Bo Odar. Despite being a nobody with zero social skills, our young protagonist is able to bound to stardom within the hacker community; once there, though, he craves a kind of recognition that can only lead to trouble given the crimes he has committed. Slickly made and involving if not entirely novel, the film should prove plenty commercial in Germany, where Sony Pictures is releasing; Stateside, the popcorny story would likely play better in a multiplex-bound English-language remake than in arthouses.
Generation Warcostar Tom Schilling plays Benjamin, who is telling his story to Europol investigator Hanne Lindberg (Trine Dyrholm) now because he fears for his life: After a spree that riled the Russian mob, the three other members of his crew have been slaughtered in a hotel room. Benjamin introduces us to the virtual world they inhabited, full of catchy pseudonyms and collectives like FR13NDS, which has ties to organized crime. The film’s visualization of the dark corner of cyberspace where they communicate — “the Net inside the Net,” as Benjamin describes it — is the film’s most distinctive ingredient: Here, actors in hoodies and masks are avatars for techie ne’er-do-wells, communicating with chat-like text boxes that appear beside their faces; their virtual meeting place is represented by a darkened subway car illuminated only be flashing packets of data outside.
Here, Benjamin and his buddies call themselves CLAY and long for the approval of king-of-the-realm MRX. But they don’t exist solely in the virtual world. CLAY’s alpha male Max (Elyas M’Barek) insists that real hacking requires lots of people skills and heist-like breaking-and-entering; when they’re doing the latter, they wear clown masks that resemble the Guy Fawkes mask popularized by V for Vendetta and the real-life hacktivists Anonymous.
Though sometimes implausibly constructed, CLAY’s often harmless stunts are diverting. Slightly less so are scenes of interpersonal squabbling, some of which revolve around a tacked-on love plot with a law student named Marie (Hannah Herzsprung). Benjamin aside, the men who make up CLAY bear little resemblance to most real-world hackers. It’s not as if these compromised casting decisions are justified by especially colorful performances, either: The characters are hardly developed beyond “he’s the fat guy,” “he’s the ‘roided-up muscleman.” Only late in the film, as Odar and cowriter Jantje Friese get twisty with some moves stolen from The Usual Suspects and another Hollywood hit (naming it would spoil the fun), does one see a possible justification for this crew’s makeup.
There’s never much justification for the attention paid to Hanne Lindberg, whose coldly professional character makes an unsatisfying foil for Benjamin. (The latter is hardly a tornado of charisma, himself.) The secrets and lies involved in closing scenes would play much better if we were more invested in the gamesmanship in Lindberg’s interrogation room.
Production company: Wiedemann & Berg Film
Cast: Tom Schilling, Elyas M’Barek, Hannah Herzsprung, Wotan Wilke Mohring, Antoine Monot, Jr., Trine Dyrholm, Stephan Kampwirth
Director: Baran Bo Odar
Screenwriters: Jantje Friese, Baran Bo Odar
Producers: Quirin Berg, Max Wiedemann
Executive producer: Justyna Muesch
Director of photography: Nikolaus Summerer
Production designer: Silke Buhr
Costume designer: Ramona Klinikowski
Editor: Robert Rzesacz
Music: Michael Kamm
No rating, 105 minutes