‘Anonymous’: Film Review

Anonymous - Still - H - 2016
A nonstarter.

In the first English-language feature by Kazakh director Akan Satayev, a young computer whiz becomes involved in the world of high-stakes cybercrime and black-market luxury goods.

Uninvolving from start to finish, the would-be thriller Anonymous traffics in a certain bland slickness, placing it squarely in the international crime subset of generic action features. Kazakh director Akan Satayev’s first English-language feature is technically proficient but devoid of a beating heart. As it juggles half-formed and feebly dramatized notions of the dark web, black markets, cybercrime and hacktivism, the success or failure of the hoaxes enacted by its young hackers and thieves matters not a whit.

In large part that’s because the screenplay, credited to Sanzhar Sultan and Timur Zhaksylykov, substitutes a clumsy excess of voiceover narration for character development, particularly in the case of the story’s nominal protagonist, Alex (Callan McAuliffe). As a child, he emigrated from Ukraine to Canada with his hardworking mother (Vlada Verevko) and bitter, layabout father (Genadijs Dolganovs) and took to the internet like a duck to water. After his mother loses her bank job, Alex is able to give her the money he’s slowly been saving as a “clicker” for websites, and then sets his sights on quick-paying scams to replenish the coffers.

From there the story turns into a series of been-there-done-that globe-hopping escapades involving Alex and his two partners in crime: black-market hustler Sye (Daniel Eric Gold), who at least lends a welcome touch of abrasiveness to the dull proceedings, and Kira (Lorraine Nicholson), a specialist in high-flying transactions involving Bitcoin and counterfeit credit cards who’s actually a reluctant FBI informant. Her goal is to reach Zed (Clifton Collins Jr.), the reclusive head of a major online crime syndicate. Alex has his own reasons, as vague as anything in the movie, for wanting to meet the sinister mastermind, who turns out to be wheelchair-bound and severely disfigured, a diluted version of a Dick Tracy villain.

Notwithstanding its title and some borrowed imagery, the movie isn’t specifically concerned with the real-world hacktivist network Anonymous. Hazy anti-big-bank sentiments are tossed about, and cyber-attackers target the Federal Reserve Board, but Satayev’s chief interest is the all-too-familiar grit and glamor of strip clubs, discos, sports cars and jet-set jewels. Alex’s righteous indignation against the bank that fired his mother, and his supposed thirst for retaliation, all too readily gives way to sheer materialism for materialism’s sake.

As the run-of-the-mill action moves from Toronto to Hong Kong to Thailand, the characters never come into focus and the emotional stakes remain negligible. The movie struggles to generate the slightest tension around the question of who’s playing whom, but the real question is, Why bother?

Distributor: Archstone Distribution
Production companies: Sataifilm, Skylight Picture Works, Brillstein Entertainment
Cast: Callan McAuliffe, Lorraine Nicholson, Daniel Eric Gold, Zachary Bennett, Clifton Collins Jr., Vlada Verevko, Genadijs Dolganovs
Director: Akan Satayev
Screenwriter: Sanzhar Sultan
Co-writer: Timur Zhaksylykov
Executive producers: Timur Meirambekov, Kenges Rakishev, Zhanbolat Serikov, Jai Khanna, Loudon Owen
Producers: Sanzhar Sultan, Akan Satayev
Director of photography: Pasha Patriki
Production designer: Nazgol Goshtasbpour
Costume designer: Barb Cardoso
Editor: Alex Márquez
Casting: Laray Mayfield, Julie Schubert

Rated R, 95 minutes