Untraceable not ‘cheesy’ thriller
The first question most people ask after seeing a film like Untraceable is “Can it happen here?” It, in this case, being a website run by a psychopath who kidnaps and kills people online, speeding up their pain and death with the web site’s hit counter – the more people log on, the faster the victim dies, making everyone watching an accessory to murder. In Greg Hoblit’s film, a small group of FBI cybercrime experts led by Diane Lane try to track down the killer, whose web savvy is considerable, leaving them one step behind at all times.
In real life, E. J. Hilbert was one of those experts – a former FBI agent who recently left the bureau to become head of security at MySpace – and Hoblit called on him to make sure that his film wasn’t a cyber joke. Talking about his film at a Los Angeles press event, the director recalls the reaction of actor Edward Norton – the co-star of Hoblit’s 1996 crime film Primal Fear - to another film about the internet.
“About ten years ago there was a movie that came out called The Net,” Hoblit says, “and Edward saw the film and called me up and said 'I've just seen the worst movie ever.' It was something where these guys just didn't give a damn about anything accurate. It was just appalling. It just stuck in my head - I've always been a stickler for realism, because I think the audiences these days are pretty sophisticated with cop stuff, fire stuff, medical stuff, legal stuff. They know when they're being messed with. They know when people are playing fast and loose. And they'll pop right out of the movie, they'll stop trusting it.”
Hilbert says he’s seen plenty of these films – movies where the computers are improbably fast, the screens full of slick graphic interfaces unseen in real life. “There are a lot of them, and that was an issue when we started talking about this. Like the IP addresses in this one - 192s, 127s. We discussed that at length, because you can't use real numbers. Rather than bag on other films - there are those films, I agree with you - but when Greg asked me to help out on this one, the focus was on the realism as much as possible.”
For his part, Hoblit calls Untraceable “a cautionary tale” – something for the audience to think about when the thrill has subsided and they’ve left the theatre, when they check their e-mail or download pictures or let their kids wander around online. “I wouldn't want to just make a thrill ride movie - that's not in my bones. There's a bit of an education here - I don't want to overstate that; this isn't PBS - but I don't want to think that I made a cheesy exploitation movie like Saw 3.”