Milo Hoffman (Ryan Phillippe) is a bright young computer whiz, straight out of University and together with his friend Teddy Chin (Yee Jee Tso) they plan to get some venture capital and create a new startup software company. He has a beautiful girlfriend Alice (Claire Forlani), and generally the future looks very bright. Things apparently are about to get a whole lot better still, as Milo is invited, out of the blue, to visit Gary Winston (Tim Robbins), head of huge software corporate NURV. Winston is having problems getting his S.Y.N.A.P.S.E software ready in time for its release date, and he believes Milo is the coder he needs to help get the job done. The offer extends to Teddy as well, but he's not interested as he loathes Winston's proprietary software greed. Milo goes against his principles and accepts the job. Initially, everything is good, as he picks up a big salary, a flash company car, and meets new colleagues including Lisa Calighan (Rachael Leigh Cook). But it's not long before things are taking a sinister turn. Every time he runs into difficulty with developing the software, Winston shows up with some helpful code to solve the problem. But when his friend Teddy is killed in an apparent racist attack and then Winston appears with some coding advice based exactly on what Teddy was talking to him about, he begins to realise what is going on...
...And that's as much as I am going to divulge about the plot, as to reveal any more would be to spoil the multitude of twists and turns before the end.
Antitrust, despite its cast of bright young things, did pretty appalling box office, both in the US and UK. Which is a pity, because I quite liked it. It does attempt to be realistic with its portrayal of technology, much better than, say Hackers, but maybe that was one of the problems. Techies like me may enjoy that sort of thing, but a thriller about software developers may not exactly appeal to the public at large. Secondly, it missed the boat somewhat, as its depiction of limitless money in technology loses its edge now that the dot com bubble has burst somewhat. If it had come out eighteen months earlier it may have fared better.
Ryan Phillippe is competent rather than outstanding in the lead role, and Forlani and Leigh Cook provide good (and beautiful) support. Tim Robbins does a thinly veiled impersonation of Bill Gates; a remark made at Winston's high tech lakeside house about Gates' digital pictures being "primitive" was probably put in to appease the lawyers.
This is not to say that everything about this film is good. The revelations about the conspiracy that is occurring are somewhat ridiculous, and English director Peter Howitt's direction can be corny at times to say the least. When Milo starts to discover what is going on, Howitt feels the need to bash the viewer over the head with a mallet to let them know, and it's completely over the top. His direction is better at other times though, and only a non-American would really get the fact that the way Americans stand up whooping and cheering at business meetings is so ridiculous, as he shows here in one scene.
If you are looking for an entertaining paranoid thriller, you could do a lot worse than Antitrust. Sure, it's ridiculous in places, but it has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing till the end. Just don't let anyone spoil it for you before you see it.
The picture quality is generally at a very good level. It's bright and colourful and although it suffers from just the tiniest amount of artifacting in a couple of places, it's nothing of any great concern.
The Dolby Digital soundtrack is big and powerful, and reasonably high quality. The only issue I had was that some of the musical soundtrack - composed of a lot of rock tracks - could sound a little muddy at times. Otherwise, no complaints.
I often give this warning but this time it's so important I need to really highlight it: Do not watch any of the supplemental material on this disc until you have watched the film!. There are a lot of twists and turns in this film and all of the extras here, including the trailer, give away far too much and will ultimately spoil your enjoyment of the movie.
The commentary is by director Peter Howitt, with additional contributions by film editor Zach Staenberg. It's fairly lively, with plenty of interesting information, even if occassionally they drift off into simply describing what's happening on the screen. My personal highlight moment is when Howitt describes a scene of violence as "...in England, we call this 'all kicking off'". Hilarious.
There are 7 deleted scenes, available either with or without director commentary. Actually it's 8 scenes, as one is an alternative opening and ending sequence, bookending the film in a different way to the final cut. Generally, the decisions to cut these scenes were sound, as they were either superfluous, or gave away too many clues to upcoming twists in the film. A minor quibble is the organization of the menu to watch these scenes - I tend to watch each scene without the commentary, then immediately again with. The menu system here is ordered round the wrong way and requires you to go up and down lots of levels to do this.
Antitrust: Cracking the Code is a 23 minute featurette about the making of the movie. Although this looks like pre-release promo material, the packaging indicates that this was made especially for the DVD. I'll emphasise yet again that this should not be watched until after seeing the movie, as every twist and turn is revealed. It includes interviews with the stars (including Rachael Leigh Cook with a very bad haircut), and also cover all the usual bases, such as production design and other elements of the filmmaking process.
Finally on the disc is a music video, "When it all goes wrong again" by Everclear - presented in 4x3 fullscreen - and the theatrical trailer, presented anamorphically with 5.1 sound. Note that the trailer includes part of a scene that was deleted as it gave away too much too early.
This is a slightly ridiculous but nontheless entertaining conspiracy thriller that deserved better box office that it got. Worth a look on a DVD which is of reasonable technical quality, with a decent set of extra material.