Untraceable: Voyeurism run amok

Owen Reilly (played by Joseph Cross) has a point to make about the demeaning, painful nature of being the family member of a man whose suicide played live on the evening news. In the age of viral video and the internet, Owen’s father’s suicide becomes a “classic” and he’s out to prove that American culture is grotesquely obsessed with violence and pain.

It’s a good point, really. I had to work hard to find a redeeming concept from the film I thought was an internet crime drama (rather than a snuff film). The problem is that Owen chooses to compound the damage by becoming a serial murderer and webcasting twisted torture and death live; the more who log in to view his crime the faster the victims die. Every disgusting, gory detail of the successive murders in this movie is on screen.

There was no entertainment value in Untraceable. If you go to see the movie, you further Owen’s twisted point. The only interesting part was the way that internet crime was investigated by the FBI. According to this story, that background to the plot was very accurate:

untraceable.jpgSo says former FBI cyber-crime specialist E.J. Hilbert, who was a consultant on the Diane Lane film, which opened Friday, and now is head of security for MySpace.

“This movie is as technically correct as it can be while still being entertaining,” Hilbert said in a phone interview from Los Angeles.

Early in “Untraceable” the FBI agent portrayed by Lane identifies a teenage hacker who has stolen thousands of credit card numbers and used them to go on a buying spree.

She tracks him down to his suburban home (he’s using a neighbor’s Wi-Fi as a cover) and orders an FBI team to break down his door.

Absolutely how it really works, according to Hilbert.

“The only area in which we fudge is the time frame,” he said. “Real-life crime investigation isn’t as fast as what you see in the movie. In real life you’d get bored watching us.

“But as to the methodology, it’s very accurate. This is how the FBI monitors this stuff. It’s pretty realistic. We wouldn’t bust somebody for stealing one credit card, but in some of these cases we were dealing with people who had stolen hundreds of thousands of card numbers.”

As for the idea of a killer broadcasting his murders over the Web, it’s entirely possible, Hilbert said. In fact it has already happened with some jihadist Web sites providing live coverage of the execution of Westerners they’ve taken hostage.

One example was the murder of Wall Street Journal writer/editor Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in 2002.

“It’s not that far-fetched,” Hilbert said. “In fact, it’s very plausible.

In a world where the line between horrid, real people, real life violence and “entertainment violence” is entirely blurred by always-available news channels and digital communications & internet technology, the issue of this film is an important one. The film, however, is not important in any way. Based on the reactions of the people around me, they were unsatisfied with the plot, with the ending especially, but not by the premise. They were there to watch the reality violence. I wonder how many went home to log on to the internet and test out the web address Owen’s character uses as a portal to his murder scenes for his voyeuristic accomplices. That’s the truly scary part… the rest was just disgusting.

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