Enemies of the State

Enemies of the State tells one of those stories with so many twists and turns that you feel like your head is spinning after a while. I love documentaries like this, and it's a good one. Dealing with subjects such as surveillance, paranoia, and government secrets, it's something you'd think was too ridiculous if it was written as fiction. Don't get up for a bathroom break because new details come at a rapid pace.

Matt DeHart is a young man who ran an internet server and had some vague ties to Wikileaks and possibly the hacker group Anonymous. One day, someone uploaded extremely sensitive top secret documents onto that server. Matt did nothing with them, but knew they were there and what was on them. That was sufficient for the government to raid the home he shared with his parents, Paul and Leann (who are interviewed on camera). Believing that he was being continually monitored in the days afterward, he fled to Canada.

Concurrently, authorities in Tennessee were after him on child pornography charges, as well as allegations that he tried to meet up with two minors for sexual purposes. These charges were used in an effort to extradite him back to the U.S. The DeHarts believe this was merely a ruse to go after their primary concern -- preventing Matt from turning into a whistle-blower by revealing the contents of those files. Enemies of the State makes you wonder if that could be possible, especially after Leann reveals to the camera what was put onto the server. If her claims are true, it's the bombshell to end all bombshells.

That's a big “if" because, although clearly intelligent and well-educated people, the DeHarts make several unusual choices in how they respond to the situation. Those choices cast doubt about their motivations, although the family claims their actions were driven by the pressure of being surveilled. Matt, in particular, embraces the role of potential whistle-blower, seemingly trying to turn himself into a martyr. A whole other series of questions arises, chief among them whether he's concocted a few of his claims of government mistreatment to distract from the sexually predatory behavior he's been accused of.

I've omitted several of the most shocking revelations in Enemies of the State because the less you know in advance, the more hypnotic this tangled web is. The bottom line is that deciphering what's fact and what's fiction is virtually impossible. Journalists, lawyers, and a professor are interviewed, and they seem stymied by the impenetrable nature of the situation. Just enough about the case is factually provable to make the vagueness of everything else able to be distorted in any number of ways. In that regard, the documentary brilliantly shows how conspiracy theories can take root and grow.

Director Sonia Kennebeck has actors dramatize certain moments, the effect of which is occasionally awkward. The film also stops just short of making the grand statement about information leaks that it seems poised to unleash. Nevertheless, the director captures this bizarre, confounding story in a way that asks all the right questions, getting you to think deeply about the nature of intelligence leaking in this politically-charged time. Enemies of the State keeps your eyes glued to the screen from start to finish.

out of four

Enemies of the State is unrated, but contains adult language and discussion of sexual abuse. The running time is 1 hour and 43 minutes.