Antitrust was directed by Peter Howitt who previously made the romantic fantasy film Sliding Doors (1998) and would go onto the puerile spy comedy Johnny English (2003), the romcom Laws of Attraction (2004) and the upcoming post-holocaust film Scorched Earth (2017). Antitrust is a competent thriller, no more than that. Up to this point, computer thrillers had tended to borrow the models of other films and have yet to create their own original form Sneakers (1992), the best of these, was more of a hi-tech caper film a la Topkapi (1965); The Net (1995) was just an old-fashioned paranoia conspiracy film; while Hackers (1995) was nothing more than a pseudo-twentysomething slice of lifestyle film trying to tap into hacker/geek culture. Antitrust is no different the model it takes is the story of the innocent being seduced by the powerful corporation as patented by the likes of The Firm (1993) and The Devils Advocate (1997).
For a time, Antitrust proves enjoyable. Tim Robbins does an amusing impression of Bill Gates and has considerable fun whenever he is on screen. Indeed, he is allowed to make some persuasive speeches that make his character seem sympathetic. If the film had stayed with this, it would have probably been more interesting. However, not long after, the storyabout a seduced innocent is thrown aside and we are propelled into standard suspense mechanics where Antitrust simply becomes a thriller about one person trying to find evidence of wrongdoing, one in which there are no longer any shades of grey in regard to the heros choices. Here the film ranges between the competently conducted during Ryan Philippes break-in to the surveillance center to the unintentionally risible Philippe thinking Claire Forlani is plotting to kill him by cooking a dinner with sesame seeds in it. The ending where we realise that just about everybody in the principal cast has changed their initial alignment at least once collapses into ridiculous contrivation. To the films credit, it at least never sees the need to pump the action up with gratuitous car chases and shootouts.
The one thing that Antitrust does well is provide a credible picture of tech culture and working environments. Unlike other films such as The Net, Hackers and tvs Bugs (1995-8) and Level 9 (2000), it is reasonably knowledgeable technically. (It has even hired science-fiction writer Gentry Lee as technical advisor). There are a lot of geek, if not exactly in-jokes, then asides: Youve got a real girlfriend, one geek incredulously exclaims to Ryan Philippe. The film accurately depicts the fierce dislike of many hackers for Microsofts tactics and how working for Microsoft is equated with the ultimate sellout, and contrasts this with the struggle to survive as an independent start-up.
In the end though, box-office ultimately triumphs over believability Ryan Philippe is far too pretty, far too socially astute and simply far too well-dressed to be a believable hacker. One of the films biggest plausibility holes is simply the film asking us to believe that a computer geek could ever pull in a babe like Claire Forlani. The film ends on the same sort of na´ve hacker fantasy that Hackers did of the truth being broadcast to the world (although the slick MTV/commercial style of presentation used would probably have it dismissed as propaganda by most) and the undeniable wish fulfillment fantasy of Tim Robbins Bill Gates stand-in being dragged off in handcuffs.