January 14, 2001 -- "Antitrust" is a movie about the head of a ruthless big software company that will do whatever it takes, including bribery, theft, espionage and murder to get ahead in this competitive industry. The film takes great pains to say that they're not talking about Bill Gates, but it sure looks like it is at least making fun of him.
The Gates-like head of the evil company, NURV (which stands for Never Underestimate Radical Vision) is played with flair by Tim Robbins of "Mission to Mars" Gary Winston is the character's name. Robbins looks like he's having loads of fun with this role. He's a genius with ambitions to match his intellect. He recruits two young programmers who are about to start their own company, Milo Hoffmann (Ryan Phillippe of "The Way of the Gun") and Teddy Chin (Yee Jee Tso). Chin, in the proud anti-establishment tradition of programmers, says no, but Milo is seduced by the dark side of the software industry.
Winston tells Milo that he needs his genius to overcome bandwidth-related problems for a revolutionary new digital convergence communications system that will feed information to computers, watches, pagers, cell phones and many other devices from a network of satellites that cover the globe. All of this will be controlled from Winston's mansion, located in what looks like the Pacific Northwest. NURV's "campus," where the software gets developed, looks a lot like Microsoft's Washington campus. Numerous companies, including Chin's company, Skullbocks, is pursing the same goal. The stakes in the race are space high.
Winston takes Milo under his wing as the company speeds toward product launch. Every time Milo gets stuck, Winston drops by with some brilliant software code to help him along. At one point, he asks "Who's writing this?" Winston explodes in anger, shocking Milo. He begins to have suspicions about these mysterious discs with the valuable code. Who is writing this code, where is it coming from? If the person or persons who are writing the code are this smart, why aren't they on the NURV campus? Shortly after making a breakthrough on the convergence code, Chin is murdered. Shortly after that, Winston drops by with another disc of brilliant code.
The scene were Milo figures out that Winston is unethical is comically overdone, but Milo finally does get the message. He begins to plot how he can prove what Winston is really up to. The film also stars Rachael Leigh Cook of "Get Carter") as Milo's girlfriend, Lisa Calighan and a pretty young programmer Alice Poulson (Claire Forlani of "Meet Joe Black"). Douglas McFerran plays Bob Shrot, head of NURV security. Shrot is ridiculed for his lack of computer know-how, but he plods ahead with his old-fashioned police methods. Matching up a fingerprint in one scene he says, triumphantly, "See, you don't need computers." Shrot is one of the best characters in the movie, and the only one with any common sense. McFerran is one of several actors in the film who also appeared in director Peter Howitt's earlier film, "Sliding Doors."
There are some problems with the film. It is an action film with no action, just people hunched over computer keyboards, typing away. At least the computer screens look like real computer screens in this film. Aside from Robbins and McFerren, the actors are pretty wooden. Phillippe looks as though he could, indeed, be fashioned into lumber. Forlani looks like she's on drugs, but Rachael Leigh Cook is perkier.
If a major company is going to commit murder, you wouldn't think it would keep a video record of the murder for police to discover, but that's what NURV does. The video record is even accessible in a fairly public place. The movie mentions "open code" where the source code to a software, such as Linux, is made freely available, but doesn't really explain the benefits of it, as opposed to other forms of software commerce. It turns out that some very prominent Linux people were involved in the making of this film. Aside from the logical gaffes, uninspired acting and the excesses of editing and special effects, it is not a bad movie, but it isn't quite good, either. Howitt does a pretty good job of pacing the film and keeping the suspense up. The production values are high, with lush sets and fancy special effects. It rates a C+.
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