When computer hacker Benjamin is brought in for questioning by Europol’s cybercrime division, he claims he has information on a dangerous hacker collective they are chasing. During his interrogation, he weaves an elaborate history of his experiences in the fast-paced and intense life of an online criminal.
In a setup reminiscent of The Usual Suspects or Norwegian thriller Jackpot, Benjamin acts as an unreliable narrator, sitting in police custody after a massacre and relating the events leading up to it, his tale growing ever more fanciful in the retelling. As he begins, he is revealed to have something of a superhero complex (and with an absent father and a dead mother, he practically has an origin story) but his frustration with how society has placed him doesn’t allow him to realise this, so instead he turns to cybercrime as a release. The small hacker collective CLAY he forms gives him a sense of purpose, while the online community of international cybercriminals allows him to feel a part of something.
One of the problems with making movies about hackers is that people hunched over laptops typing away at keyboards are not especially interesting to watch. To remedy this, the action takes several paths to keep the viewer engaged. As the online stunts CLAY performs often feature as much physical infiltration as they do actual coding, their events are more akin to the action of heist flicks. From their beginnings with infiltrating a meeting of white supremacists in order to plant a humiliating video to breaking into the offices of Germany’s national security agency, there is always a degree of real-life deception to their undertakings.
Like that seen in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, during the hacking sequences we get realistic representations of what the craft actually looks like, showing screens of code instead of the daft interactive 3D visuals so beloved of Hollywood’s glamorous misconception of what hacking entails. There is also an acknowledgment of the vastly different types of expertise programmers possess and how different areas of knowledge and proficiency are applicable in different situations, along with another offline element from the utilisation of the fact that the biggest threat to computer security is the people operating them failing to take proper precautions.
The film attempts to liken the technological deception to magic tricks, which in itself is certainly an admirable aspiration, but magic tricks in films rarely work as effectively as they do on stage due to the ease of deceit through editing choices. There’s nothing particularly clever about simply withholding information from your audience. Despite a rather smug payoff, Who Am I is still an engaging techno-thriller that also rather unnervingly reminds us that in the information age there can be no such thing as absolute security.
WHO AM I: NO SYSTEM IS SAFE / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: BARAN BO ODAR / SCREENPLAY: JANTJE FRIESE, BARAN BO ODAR / STARRING: TOM SCHILLING, ELYAS M'BAREK, WOTAN WILKE MÖHRING, ANTOINE MONOT JR, TRINE DYRHOLM, HANNAH HERZSPRUNG / RELEASE DATE: TBC
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10