Takedown movie review
Although there is another movie called Freedom Downtime about Kevin Mitnick, which is a lot more true to his real story, Takedown, to me, is the most exciting hacker movie yet made.
The movie is about two friends, Kevin Mitnick and Alex Lowe, who have been having fun hacking and doing crazy things for years but now they’re getting older and it’s riskier for them to keep doing things that can get them into trouble. Kevin at the start of the film is on probation over some past hacking exploits. They find out about different interesting technological secrets and they do what they can to get access to those secrets. They don’t necessarily break-in using computers, as people are sometimes easier to trick than computers. Many times Kevin gets a contact number for one of the tech support desks or a middle manager that works for a company that has a government contract, he calls them, gives them the name of somebody else that works there, and gets the information from them (social engineering). Sometimes, he makes fake IDs or gets information from garbage they throw out.
They meet other hackers sometimes, which sometimes are federal cops, and they do as much as they can without entrapping themselves, just to fool around and waste the Feds’ time. The movie plays out not just as a hacker movie but also a spy movie. At times it feels like Catch Me If You Can. Kevin since the start of the movie has had the heat from the cops on him with them trying to entrap him. The friend Alex is often making fun at how the media label Kevin as something sort of like a terrorist.
The main story of the movie is that Kevin is this hacker maverick which the government wants to catch, he makes an enemy out of Tomu (Tsutomu Shimomura), a hacker that is employed by the government, breaks into his computers after Tomu had dissed him after showing off in front of Congress, and Kevin finds some files that are dangerous (they can potentially crash large parts of networks/the internet) which Tomu had generated. Kevin is slowly trying to put together the files (since they are encrypted), while on the run from the cops, as Tomu helps the cops hunt him down.
The movie poses a lot of good questions. Why should individual hackers be so hunted when there are people working for the government (FBI/CIA/NSA) who are doing much worse things but they have a badge? It makes you think that the “cops and robbers” are the same thing, except that one has a badge and the other one doesn’t. How far would you be willing to go to pursuit the truth?
On one hand you have this guy Kevin pranking and tricking people, finding out stuff that corporations and the government hide from us (some stuff regarding national security, other nasty tricks used to spy on people, like the ability to tap into any phone, etc.) then you have the government hackers which are protected by the law and then you have these suit wearing federal cops that in the movie don’t really know how to combat a hacker but they’re not entirely useless with their old policing strategies. Kevin pursuits these truths to know. He brings up in the movie that he could have a lot of money by doing fraud and other things but he just wants to know the truth.
There’s a bunch of fun details in the movie such as instead of having some servers be by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), they are by Binary Equipment Corporation (BEC), which doesn’t exist but their logo is created in the same font as DEC’s. Some machines have the real logos and interfaces, such as some of the IBM servers.
The movie takes place in the early to mid 90s and the computers, software, and equipment used is pretty authentic. I thought the actors were really well chosen, especially Skeet Ulrich as Kevin (you can see the tension of being hunted at all times), Donal Logue as Alex (he plays a very happy-go-lucky best-friend that seems like a real smartass), and even Christopher McDonald as the FBI agent (he is very comical in this role).
A lot of people hate this film because it is a twist on what really happened to Kevin Mitnick but this is just a movie. Again, if you want to see what really happened to Kevin, watch Freedom Downtime. I wish they would have changed the name of the main character rather than call him Kevin Mitnick but I guess at the time his name was still hot on the press and they kind of took advantage of that. If you watch the movie by itself, ignoring the real story, you may still enjoy it. I did.