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Film / Antitrust

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Remember back in the late '90s/early '00s, when everybody thought that Microsoft was an evil MegaCorp hell-bent on Taking Over The (Computer) World by any means necessary? (Well, even more than they do today?) Well, what if "any means necessary" included murder? And what if it was up to one plucky programmer to expose their malevolence?

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the plot of Antitrust.

Antitrust is a 2001 thriller starring Ryan Phillippe, Tim Robbins, Rachael Leigh Cook, Claire Forlani, and Richard Roundtree. Milo Hoffman (Phillippe) is a young programmer from Silicon Valley whose talents earn him the notice of the Portland-based software corporation NURV, run by billionaire philanthropist Gary Winston (Robbins). Winston wants Milo to help him develop a new system called Synapse, which will link all the world's computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices via satellite. While at NURV, he starts falling for a young programmer named Lisa (Cook), which wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for the fact that he already has a girlfriend in Alice (Forlani). However, after his programmer buddy Teddy (Yee Jee Tso) is murdered, Milo starts to uncover evidence that NURV may have been behind it... and the murder of countless other programmers in order to steal their work and claim it as their own. Out of a mix of duty to his dead friend and disgust at his employers, Milo sets out to destroy NURV from within and give Synapse to the people... unless NURV stops him first and claims him as their next victim.

Antitrust provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Lisa was molested by her stepfather when she was a child.
  • Affably Evil: Winston. If he wasn't a hack and making his employees spy on and kill people to maintain his company's superiority, he probably would be a cool boss.
  • Ambiguous Situation: At what point does Milo realize that Lisa can't be trusted? He certainly doesn't tell her about the backup plan with Building 21, but that doesn't necessarily mean he knew she was The Mole.
  • Asian and Nerdy: Teddy. The "Asian" part becomes important to the plot when Winston hires white supremacists to beat him to death, making it look like it was a hate crime to divert attention from the theft of the data he was working on.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: NURV has an elaborate surveillance system in its headquarters and cameras spying on potential employees, including a program that can rebuild the computer code they are working on from watching the screen and keyboard inputs.
  • Can't Stop the Signal: Milo uses the code Winston has created to display the code Winston cobbled together from the work of the programmers he killed.
  • Cardboard Prison: NURV is good at pulling strings to get people out of trouble with the law, most notably "Alice". They have at least one high-ranking DOJ official on their payroll, and who knows how many others.
    • Milo wonders why the skinheads weren't already in jail when they're known criminals with an obvious lack of subtlety. Unclear whether NURV helped them directly, or just found them a useful scapegoat.
    • Assuming Lisa's stepfather is still in jail, this is most likely what Milo's thinking when he suggests this is how she'll be disappeared if she turns on the company.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Milo's sesame seed allergy.
  • Cool Car: Milo's company car, a white Mercedes SUV, is portrayed as this in comparison to the Buick that the Department of Justice would've given him for helping to take down NURV instead.
    • Alice's Citroen 2CV also qualifies, in a cute and quirky sort of way.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Gary Winston is every single little conspiracy theory of Bill Gates given physical form - he is not above ordering assassinations to get what he wants.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Milo does not end the movie with either of the female leads because both were lying to him the entire time he's known them and complicit with the people who murdered his best friend and countless others. Notably, despite her Heel–Face Turn and Milo accepting that she was indeed not entirely pretending to be in love with him, their last interaction implies that they will still be going their separate ways.
  • Expy Coexistence: Gary Winston is transparently based on Bill Gates, but Gates is also acknowledged as existing in the movie, apparently as a rival. At one point, Winston turns his nose up when a piece of technology he owns is compared to a similar one that Gates has in real life, and replies that Gates' version of the technology is primitive.
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Again, Winston.
  • Fun with Acronyms: NURV (Never Underestimate Radical Vision).
  • Heel–Face Turn: Alice/Rebecca.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: The hard drive of "Cerebellum", NURV's Magical Database, is located in the headquarters' daycare center.
  • Hollywood Hacking: Averted. The filmmakers went out of their way to portray hacking, the Linux community, and dawn-of-the-millennium computer technology in a fairly realistic manner. In fact, the only really glaring error was the character's use of an Apple laptop in the finale (hackers hardly ever use Apples), and that's probably more attributable to studio-enforced Product Placement than any lack of research.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: NURV ultimately gets brought down when Milo hacks into Synapse and uses it's features as an all-platform communications network to broadcast incriminating evidence to the entire world.
  • In Love with the Mark: Alice/Rebecca falls in love with Milo, and betrays NURV in order to stay with him.
  • Information Wants to Be Free: At the climax, the heroes release the Synapse source code for free after using it to broadcast the evidence of Winston's misdeeds.
  • Informed Attribute: We (and Milo) are told that Lisa doesn't open up to people, despite the fact that she's quite outgoing when it comes to Milo. Justified when we find out that the person who told us that is in on the conspiracy, and so is Lisa.
  • Ironic Echo: During the opening credits montage, Winston makes a grand speech about how he fights to keep his company great that has him saying "you're either a 'one' or a 'zero'! You live or you die!" The line gets looped throughout the video played at the climax showing that programmers were murdered in their homes for the computer code they were working on by NURV employees.
  • Love Triangle: Milo/Alice/Lisa.
  • Magical Database: In keeping with it's gross invasions of privacy and aggressively paranoid tactics, NURV has one for its employees, potential employees, and anyone else they take even a passing interest in. Some detective work and some lucky guesses on file names provides Milo with conclusive proof that NURV was behind Teddy's murder and that he absolutely cannot trust anybody, not even the Department of Justice or his girlfriend.
  • MegaCorp: NURV. A representation of everybody's fears of Microsoft, including having hitmen and Honey Traps on its payroll.
  • The Mole: Both Alice/Rebecca and Lisa at various points. The former starts out as this, but falls In Love with the Mark and does a Heel–Face Turn. The latter, meanwhile, pretends to help Milo in his crusade against NURV, but then turns him in to their security.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Gary Winston is this to Bill Gates, with NURV as his Microsoft.
  • Oh, Crap!: Alice's reaction when Milo addresses her by her real name, Rebecca. Also happens to Winston when he sees the Synapse broadcast exposing his crimes.
  • Plato Is a Moron: Gary Winston highlights his Expy Coexistence with Bill Gates by calling Gates a lesser programmer.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Invoked by NURV, who frame a pair of racist thugs for the murder of Teddy. They were banking on the "hate crime" angle to throw off any attention from their involvement. Milo also speculates that, should NURV need to eliminate Lisa, they'll do the same with her, framing her abusive stepfather for her death.
  • Product Placement:
    • Pepsi soda and Pringles potato chips get in a lot of appearances.
    • Everyone Owns a Mac: The Synapse broadcast is done with a Macintosh PowerBook G3.
  • Pull the Thread: The first conclusive piece of evidence Milo has that Winston is nothing more than a murderous hack is that the day right after Teddy is bludgeoned to death by his goons, Winston approaches Milo with a "solution" to a problem Synapse is having... the same solution and same code that Teddy was working on, and told Milo the last time they spoke, a few hours earlier.
  • Rape as Backstory: Lisa. See Abusive Parents above.
  • Shown Their Work: The filmmakers consulted Linux professionals in order to get their representation of the technology and culture right, used the GNOME desktop/GUI, and even scored cameos from Miguel de Icaza and Scott McNealy.
  • Significant Monogram: Gary Winston... GW... WG... William Gates... nope, nothing significant about that.
  • Snapback: Occurs when a NURV employee enters the children's play area and accesses the hidden computer terminal. Somehow, Milo manages to escape (relatively) unnoticed.
  • Stoic Spectacles: Milo wears thick-framed glasses fairly consistently to read and use computers.
  • Tech Bro: Milo and Winston are '90s/early '00s examples inspired more by the "dot-com" boom of the time, with Milo emphasizing the cool, youthful side of the trope and Winston being more the "nerd who got his revenge".
  • Too Dumb to Live: Granted, most restaurant dinner rolls are not covered in sesame seeds, and granted that he's very distracted after a high-stress day at a new, high-stakes job, but Milo... you have a fatal food allergy. Don't try to put something in your mouth without looking at it.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Although out-of-universe he's played by Ryan Phillippe, in-universe he's still a nerd and the movie calls out him having a girlfriend as highly unusual. So how does nerdy Milo have a girlfriend as hot as Alice? Because she's a corporate spy who's trying to keep him at NURV, that's why.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Winston, thanks to his philanthropic work (a reference to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation).
  • We Interrupt This Program: The third act revolves around using the Synapse application to broadcast the video showcasing Winston's complicity in getting people killed for computer code around the world. Winston thinks he managed to stop this, and gets a big Oh, Crap! when he is gloating to Milo only to see that every channel and his computer's screen are all airing the video.