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TIFF 2020: ENEMIES OF THE STATE, Or Are They? [Review]

By Marina Antunes [09.18.20]


They say that "truth is stranger than fiction" and while that's sometimes hyperbole, the saying certainly applies to Enemies of the State latest documentary.


This sometimes bizzare thriller unpacks the drama of Matt DeHart, a former intelligence analyst for the US Air National Guard who in 2010, found himself in the middle of what he claims, was a false investigation into child pornography charges. DeHart was convinced that the investigation was a ruse to take him into custody on charges of national security for his involvement with Anonymous.


Enemies of the State begins as a story of family love and devotion - until it's not. The film's first half introduces Paul and Leann DeHart, loving parents who would do anything to help and protect their beloved son Matt, a smart but wayward young man with a love for technology which has led him into the world of 4Chan, underground networks, hacking and, eventually, Anonymous. The story takes a left turn when the DeHarts make the ultimate sacrifice: they leave behind their home and livelihoods to make a run for the Canadian border in an effort to smuggle their son, now wanted by authorities, into a safe haven.



As the drama of the DeHart's unfolds and we learn more about Matt, the story quickly starts to sound crazy. Would the government really detain a former employee on US soil and torture them to get answers? Could Matt, a character that, by Enemies of the State's halfway mark we still haven't met, really be capable of outsmarting government agents and their truth serum? But if what the younger DeHart was saying happened to him didn't actually happen to him, how on earth did he manage to convinced not only his parents, both of whom are former military officers, but also reporters, lawyers and, almost!, the Canadian government, that he was being persecuted by his own government?


It's crazy stuff but filmmaker Sonia Kennebeck amps the drama, amplifying DeHart's claim of government torture and giving him plenty of time to build himself as a victim before pulling out the rug and divulging details that shift the narrative 180 degrees. It's a nice trick and one that work's effectively well for the film's entertainment value.


While Kennebeck captures the details of the story, Enemies of the State provides ample conjecture and speculation, but no clear answers which is exactly what Matt wants: an opening that he could use to spin the story in his favour. He's done it before and it's likely he'll try to do it again though hopefully next time, the "experts" won't be quite so quick to believe him.

That's perhaps the biggest, and most damning, takeaway from Kennebeck's documentary, the idea that the American agencies have crossed so many lines and lied about it that DeHart's claims could be, however implausible they sounded, true. How far the mighty have fallen.


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