25 July 2004 | Anonymous_Maxine
25 years ago this would have been science fiction. Today it's cliché.
Odd the way technology works. Less than a decade ago, there was this completely different technological world, a world of pagers, floppy disks, dial-up modems (which are as obsolete as typewriters), and gigantic brick-like cell phones. I remember being amazed at that little tiny flap at the bottom of the phone, as thin as a credit card and yet able to pick up your voice and transmit it through the air. Now it's a feature so obsolete that it may as well never have been there. Sandra Bullock plays Angela Bennett, a lonely computer analyst who is so connected to her computer that she sits on the beach in Mexico, on her first vacation in six years, with her laptop on her lap. It's not only like a source of nourishment but her connection to the world and the establishment and maintenance of her identity.
This is where her problems begin. Like The Manchurian Candidate back in the 1960s (and again in less than a week from this writing), The Net plays on the popular fears of the society in which it is released. The Manchurian Candidate originally played off the fears instilled in people by the recently ended Cold War, while The Net, a much less potent thriller, suggests the scary possibilities of a world in which we are so inextricably connected to computers. Probably the most interesting thing in the movie now is the computers, such as the massive laptops with the tiny screens, the indispensable floppy disks which are now almost nonexistent, the graphics, etc.
Angela Bennett has had her digital identity stolen and replaced with that of Ruth Marx, who has a lengthy police record and who thus takes over Angela's identity. It's pretty clever, I suppose, the way the movie presents Angela as though she hasn't left her apartment in six years and with a mother suffering from Alzheimer's (and thus not able to help identify the real Angela later), but it's pretty hard to believe that not a single person in the office where she worked noticed that Angela started being a completely different person. She had no significant other, was not dating, and no parents who could identify her, but was she such a recluse that even the people in the office she worked in didn't even know what she looked like?
At any rate, the plot of the movie is pretty smartly created, although it is created as though it were an excuse for a lot of chase scenes, one of which takes place on a merry-go-round in a great homage to Hitchcock's Strangers On A Train, one of the many classic films to which the movie alludes, several of them other Hitchcock films. Bennett has been given a disk which contains a website, I suppose, which turns out to contain a weakness in a security system about to be set up to protect everything from banks to Wall Street to the CIA. By holding down Control and Shift and clicking on the little Pi icon in the corner of the screen, you are transported from a ludicrous page about Mozart's Ghost, apparently a god-awful metal band, and into highly classified government documents. The disk provides the bad guys with a reason to want to capture Bennett, and thus you have a movie.
Angela goes from a comfortable but bored computer analyst, doing a lot of her work from home and ordering pizza on the Internet at the end of the day (presumably one of the future possibilities of the internet which never came to exist), to a wanted fugitive, ultimately caught and put into a jail cell for someone else's crimes. She has lost her home, her job, her identity, her life. Bullock actually puts in a pretty good performance in the movie. I'm not a huge fan, but I appreciated the realness that her character had, since she is not an over the top actor, her characters are generally very real because she is as well.
Where the movie trips up is that it tries to suggest that such identity theft could happen to anyone in our technological age, but given the effort put into presenting Angela as someone with no personal contacts with just about anyone, really it could only happen to someone like Angela, and are there really that many people that no one can identify by looks? Even the guy at the local video store might recognize her as the lady who rents under her account. Oh well. There's also a glitch in the end of the movie that Mick LaSalle points out and that only people familiar with San Francisco, where the climax of the film takes place, will notice. As Angela rushes through a Macintosh exhibition at the real Moscone Center, she desperately tries to copy all the computer files before the bad guys get her. Pretty tense, but if she had been smart, she could have gone to The San Francisco Chronicle office, which is a block down the street from the Moscone Center.
But hey, maybe the Chronicle doesn't have high enough walkways out back.