Track Down Movie Review

For this film review, we begin with a history lesson. Kevin Mitnick stands as probably the most famous, the most notorious, and the most successful computer hacker of all time. After nearly 15 years of hacking (alternating with jail and probation time), he was finally apprehended for the last time in 1995, for a collection of tech crimes. and was released from prison in early 2000. (The story of his questionably legal incarceration is itself enough material for a book and a movie.) I interviewed Mitnick shortly after his release; today he's a computer security consultant (though he's not allowed to touch a computer as a term of his release).

Track Downwas produced shortly before Mitnick's release amid much controversy. Mitnick, as you might expect, is a cause celebre among the hacker community, while he's been vilified by the corporate and legal communities. The story of his long career as a hacker was the subject of two major books -- The Fugitive Game, written mainly from Mitnick's point of view, and Takedown, written by the man who captured him. The latter book (widely dismissed by the hacker community as propaganda) got optioned by Miramax, and against all odds, the Kevin Mitnick story became a movie, starring Skeet Ulrich as Mitnick and Russell Wong as Tsutomu Shimomura, the man who "captured" Mitnick and the co-author of Takedown.

But the story doesn't stop with the completion of the film, as Miramax never released it theatrically. (The making of the film was itself subject to a guerrilla documentary called Freedom Downtime, available here.) The film sat on shelves for nearly five years before getting a new (and rather lame) title and a direct-to-DVD release.

And here it is.

Track Down, if it had no basis in fact at all, wouldn't be much of a movie. It'd be the kind of thing you'd see on Showtime after hours, only the computer viruses and worms would come to life somehow. Thank God the film sticks to the guts of Mitnick's life -- although every company and character name (aside from Mitnick and Shimomura) is changed -- without ridiculously delving into the impossible. Sadly, though, the actual exploits of Mitnick are unrecognizable here among all the poetic license the filmmakers and screenwriters have taken. It's nearly impossible to figure out what company Mitnick is trying to hack, break into, or con. The facts are confused beyond hope of recognition. I can't imagine what someone unfamiliar with the proceedings is going to make of this.

The facts aside (and it's impossible to dispute the facts in Track Down, because there's no attempt to be accurate at all), Track Down is simply not a very good movie. Director Joe Chappelle has the unenviable task of helming this mess, having formerly directed a scant few films -- including Halloween 6 and Hellraiser 4 -- that couldn't have presented much of a challenge at all. With Track Down he must have found himself in a huge mess, stuck with a highly technical and convoluted plot and rising stars to coddle. You can almost hear him saying, "Ah, to hell with it, let's just put a car chase in here." Mitnick's final hack is given the full Hollywood treatment as he attacks Shimomura's computer while the FBI closes in on his apartment building -- gasp! The pacing is stupid from both a pure storytelling and a historical point of view, though some of Mitnick's work as a social engineer will be of interest to those unfamiliar with the techniques.

Ulrich doesn't resemble Mitnick, though he manages to capture his cocky essence, and Wong's only resemblance to the long-locked Shimomura is the fact that he's Japanese. The supporting cast -- including Donal Logue as a heavily reimagined compatriot of Mitnick's and a scary as hell Angela Featherstone.(playing Shimomura's girlfriend) -- are hit and miss.

Ultimately the film will be of interest only to computer history enthusiasts, and then only as a curiosity. Some will find it laughable, others will find it insulting. I find it primarily a waste of time.

Aka Takedown.

Comments

Track Down Rating

" Grim "

Rating: R, 2000

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