Remember back in the late '90s/early '00s, when everybody thought that Microsoft was an evil Mega-Corp 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.
While it generally got a poor reception from professional critics and left little impact on the box office, it's attracted a cult following from computer geeks due to its realistic portrayal of hacking and computers in general. It's also a wonderful time capsule of late '90s computer culture.
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.
- Asian and Nerdy: Teddy. The "Asian" part becomes important to the plot when Winston's goons beat him to death and make 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.
- 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: Winston.
- 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).
- HeelFace Turn: Alice/Rebecca.
- Hidden in Plain Sight: The hard drive of "Cerebellum", NURV's Magical Database, is located in the headquarters' daycare center. They even go the extra mile by being incredibly secretive about Building 21 (which is really just an uplink electronics building that is running behind schedule in construction) so people will try to infiltrate that and be disappointed at what they find.
- 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 to broadcast incriminating evidence to the entire world.
- Hollywood Nerd: Milo and Lisa. Seeing as how they're played by Ryan Phillippe and Rachael Leigh Cook, definitely Type 2.
- 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: The heroes release the Synapse program for free at the climax, after using it to broadcast the evidence of Winston's misdeeds.
- 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: Zig-zagged. NURV has one for its employees, which 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. On the other hand, it requires him to personally infiltrate the NURV daycare center and Building 21 and hack the computers, including running a file restoration function on the video of Teddy's murder.
- Mega-Corp: 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 HeelFace 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.
- Too Dumb to Live: Milo almost eats a roll covered in sesame seeds at a restaurant, and his girlfriend has to send them back and remind him that he has a life-threatening sesame seed allergy.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: How does a total nerd like Milo score a hot girlfriend like Alice, who hardly shares his interests? Because she's a corporate spy who's trying to recruit him into NURV, that's why. Of course, this is Ryan Phillippe we're talking about here.
- Villain with Good Publicity: Winston, thanks to his philanthropic work (a reference to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation).
- We Interrupt This Broadcast: 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 and he sees that every channel and his computer's screen are all airing the video.