Almost off the bat, you can tell something is rotten in Enemies of the State. Cloaked in steely blues and gunmetal gray, director Sonia Kennebeck telegraphs an unhappy ending. On that, she delivers. Maybe unresolved is a better description. She also suggests that what you are about to see and hear is not to be believed. Not wholly, at least. Something in here has to be. But, as one interviewee points out: We live in a time when someone can tell a lie, and if he says it enough times, people will believe it and come to his defense.
The interviewee in question, a lawyer, never names who “he” is, but considering this interview was conducted in 2019, I’m willing to bet he means Trump—maybe not as a person, but certainly as the figurehead for a post-truth era of alternative facts. Matt DeHart’s story may have begun several years before Trump’s presidency, but it culminates at the moment when obfuscation and misinformation became de rigueur. Another interviewee, Adrian Humphreys, a journalist who covered DeHart, at one point felt pretty confident about who DeHart was, what he did, and what was done to him. But then Kennebeck drops an eleventh-hour discovery on Humphreys, and he deflates. “I guess only Matt knows what he did.”
What did Matt DeHart do? Well, that depends on whom you ask, and that’s what Kennebeck is trying to discover in her investigative documentary, Enemies of the State. The story begins in the mid-2000s with DeHart becoming infatuated with Anonymous. A few years pass and DeHart joins the Indiana Air National Guard. Later, DeHart would admit to being an active hacker at this time and claim he was privy to sensitive information. The military denies that DeHart had access to anything of the kind, but DeHart plays it like he’s in line behind Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. Then, in 2010, law enforcement raided the DeHart home looking for incriminating evidence. Not state secrets, but child pornography. Specifically, pictures of two teenage boys DeHart allegedly coerced from them via fake accounts.
From there, things get murky. There are trips to Mexico, Canada, pretrial imprisonment, and on. Kennebeck interviews DeHart’s parents, lawyers, reporters, and investigators—sometimes even playing them off each other via clever editing. At times you side with DeHart. Other times you side with the prosecution. Eventually, you side with no one. “Only Matt knows what he did.”
And if that wasn’t enough, Kennebeck introduces a final layer of confusion: Dramatic reenactments. Using actual audio recordings, actors lip-synch to visualize the trials, the home life, the interrogation, everything. They work because it keeps the story lively. But it also distracts from Kennebeck’s overarching aim to get at what really happened.
Or maybe that’s not her game. Maybe that layering is intended to show just how malleable the truth is and how futile the quest is. “Only Matt knew what he did.”
I’m willing to bet he doesn’t.
Enemies of the State (2020)
Directed by Sonia Kennebeck
Produced by Ines Hofmann Kanna
IFC Films, Not rated, Running time 103 minutes, Opens in select theaters and On Demand July 30, 2021.