The Great Hack
Time Out says
Data theft makes for a slippery, essential subject in a globe-spanning documentary ripped from the front page.
Review by Tomris Laffly
Thinking about deleting your Facebook account? The Great Hack will be one more reason to pull the plug—it’s a comprehensive doc on the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which a sleazy British consulting firm mined behavioral information from millions of users to create targeted political propaganda across the social network and beyond. Pondering individual data rights and the sinister side of widespread connectivity, co-directors Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer diligently inspect how our innocent likes and shares became the building blocks of Brexit and Trump.
While it lacks the emotional intensity of the duo’s Oscar-nominated The Square—a rousing 2013 look at Egypt’s Arab Spring—The Great Hack still feels of a piece, inviting viewers to contemplate the power and irreversibility of their online footprint. Among the film’s leading subjects are former Cambridge Analytica director Brittany Kaiser, a cryptic, Snowden-esque whistle-blower, and NYC-based media professor and activist David Carroll, who sues Kaiser’s shady employer to demand his own data file.
Assembled with the discipline of a gripping political procedural (a Hollywood version ought to be considered), the exposé is enriched by several additional players. Carole Cadwalladr, the Guardian’s heroic investigative journalist who broke the scandal in 2018, quickens the film’s pulse considerably, whereas her original informant, pink-dyed Christopher Wylie, doesn’t get as much screen time as Kaiser. Eventually, the choice makes sense: The raspy-voiced Kaiser, with her showy cowboy boots and unpalatable yet evolving sense of morality, is the more complex (and cinematic) subject to follow. Her turbulent journey receives a commendably impartial treatment from the filmmakers.
Visually, The Great Hack resembles a low-tech Minority Report, concretizing abstract themes with a kaleidoscopic vortex of streaming data (flying emoticons, clouds of screen shots, and so on) that works more often than not. Noujaim and Amer briefly touch upon comparably corrupt schemes in different parts of the world, arriving regrettably late at Russia’s interference in U.S. democracy. Still, they neatly connect the dots of data exploitation, leaving us with an alarmingly urgent question: Can any future election ever be free and fair? Maybe we’ll find out in 2020—or not.