Sonia Kennebeck’s Enemies of the State is about the DeHart family, who at first glance appears to be your typical “American family next door.” But since 2010, the son, Matt, has been at the center of multiple serious allegations, investigations, and scandals involving government spying, hacking, political asylum-seeking, and he’s been accused of several heinous crimes.
We start by going back in time as the interviewees, mainly parents Pastor Paul and Leann DeHart (both are ex-military), retrace their son’s journey and passion for technology, computers, and the internet from a young age. This obsession, coupled with an interest in all things “secret and spy,” led him to join the National Guard, consequently obtaining special clearances and access to sensitive information. Meanwhile, at home, the young man doubled in hacktivism, hanging out on obscure tech/geek forums, then eventually helped organizations such as Anonymous. Naturally, Uncle Sam got suspicious, and not long after, the DeHart’s house was raided. Twist: the police were not there for cybersecurity concerns but looking for evidence against the young man’s grooming and predatory behaviors towards minors.
From there, Enemies of the State veers towards Mr. Robot territory as their family life becomes a stressful and mind-boggling spy movie where the parents go to great lengths to protect their son. They believe he was wrongfully accused and framed by the U.S. government on a hunt for military personnel giving intel to the likes of Wikileaks. For them, their lawyers, and some experts, there is no doubt, the raid was to look for evidence of national security breaches as we learn that DeHart was in possession of confidential documents allegedly exposing misconduct and crimes committed by America on American soil. An example would be the conspiracy theory that the 2001 anthrax tragedy was a CIA operation covered up by the FBI to create “foreigner fear panic” and boost support for the war in Iraq.
“…Matt has been at the center of multiple serious allegations, investigations, and scandals…”
Since desperate times call for desperate measures, the ultra-overprotective couple, not knowing where to turn or who to trust, decides to tirelessly work to keep their son out of prison and help him avoid prosecution. This meant they’d drive to the Russian embassy or flee to Canada to seek asylum in the dead of night. As things get fishier and muddier, Kennebeck further investigates and makes sure to point out that Matt DeHart is, in certain circles, viewed as a whistleblower by walking in the footsteps of Manning, Assange, and Snowden. DeHart ends up spending years in prison, during which he claims to have been drugged, intensely questioned/tortured, and held captive under inhumane conditions. Then new evidence comes to light.
This bombshell-filled and dense saga seemed more fitted for a Tiger King series, but Kennebeck did not have access to similar material. So Enemies of the State relies on dramatic reenactments based on transcripts or uses audio from various proceedings such as the DeHart’s immigration hearings in Canada. This blend is not uncommon for such a project, but here it only works intermittently. While it clarifies how certain things happened, the reenactments mainly add greater uncertainty to the already confusing plot. This disorientation is exacerbated by the fact that some of the dialogue on tape is nearly inaudible. Sadly, the reconstruction came off more as roleplay or a table read than cinematic drama.
However, one cannot deny that the director provides all the clues possible, while still leaving it to the viewers to decide if this is a film, as one of the many lawyers featured mentioned, about “people being paranoid or is the system really out there to get them.” Is Enemies of the State about people paying the price for being brave or being conspiracist on top of being/protecting evil criminals abusing children? Or, maybe, as the DeHart matriarch puts it, in the end, “truth does not matter.” Well, that is unless you are the real victims.
"…bombshell-filled and dense...provides all the clues possible..."