'The Hacker Wars': Film Review

Courtesy of The Hacker Wars
This breathlessly paced doc is more impassioned than insightful

Vivien Lesnik Weisman's documentary profiles several of the Internet "trolls" who break into government and big business computer networks

Hacking is so much in the news these days that it's hard not to feel paranoid simply making a purchase with your credit card. Your concerns are not likely to be alleviated by Vivien Lesnik Weisman's documentary, despite the fact that it comes down squarely on the side of the so-called "hactivists" who supposedly break into government and big business computer networks for the purpose of furthering transparency and in protest of what they label the "surveillance state." Profiling several of the movement's more notorious or heroic figures—depending upon your inclination—The Hacker Wars sacrifices depth and context in favor of a barrage of less than informative sound bites.

We're first introduced to Andrew Auernheimer, nicknamed "Weev," a self-described Internet "troll" who was incarcerated after hacking AT&T and revealing the poor state of its online security. The jovial, unrepentant Weev is seen preparing for his prison stint, claiming that he's looking forward to "making new friends and future business partners."

"I think I have moral superiority here," he boasts in one of the many brief interview segments, a claim belied by his later assertion that in Nazi Germany the Jews "did have something coming to them."

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The film's other subjects include Barrett Brown, a journalist member of the group Anonymous--known for their Guy Fawkes masks and taunting videos—who found himself facing a 101-year prison sentence for a variety of charges including hacking the private intelligence agency Stratfor. Among his collaborators in that incident was Jeremy Hammond, described at one point as "the electronic Robin Hood," currently serving a ten-year sentence.

Whether these figures are heroes or criminals is a debate likely to go on for a long time to come. Unfortunately, the issues are largely left unclarified in this breathlessly paced doc which seems to be catering to the younger generation with its hyperactive editing, extensive use of flashy graphics and pulse-pounding soundtrack of electronica and hip-hop.

"I get that it's criminal, but it's wonderful in its own way," declares one commentator, and that seems to be the film's attitude as well. The interview subjects include NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, Anonymous attorney Jay Leiderman and journalist Glenn Greenwald, the latter famous for his role in the Edward Snowden case, so it's no surprise that they come down squarely on the side of the hackers.

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Even if one admires some of what the hackers accomplished, it's hard not to be put off by their endless self-aggrandizement and self-righteousness, not to mention their adolescent penchant for vulgarity. The AT&T incident, for instance, was perpetrated by Weev and his cohorts operating under the name "Goatse." Google it if you dare.

Production: Over 9000 Pictures
Director/executive producer: Vivien Lesnik Weisman
Screenwriters: Vivien Lesnik Weisman, Meredith Raithel Perry
Director of photography: Joshua Kun
Editor: Meredith Raithel Perry
Composers: Dicepticon, Christopher Lord, Ytcracker

No rating, 91 min.