Director Greg Marcks’ first movie, the darkly comic thriller 11:14, starred Hilary Swank, Patrick Swayze, Henry Thomas, Rachael Leigh Cook, Ben Foster, and Colin Hanks. He follows that with Echelon Conspiracy and another ensemble cast, this time with Shane West (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), Ed Burns (Saving Private Ryan), Ving Rhames (Mission: Impossible), Jonathan Pryce (Tomorrow Never Dies), and Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now).
I have to say, I wasn’t expecting much from this film and I think because of this, I ended up being quite pleasantly surprised. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely had its bad moments but it’s still a watchable movie I’d recommend if you fancy an evening of entertainment and don’t set your sights too high.
Max Peterson (Shane West) is an American techie who helps people defend their computers, by installing security programs to keep hackers and criminals out. After a job in Bangkok, he returns to his hotel to find a package waiting for him from an unknown sender. It contains a mobile phone and soon he begins to receive mysterious text messages. At first they lead him to good fortune and wealth (he doesn’t catch his planned flight, which is later reported to have crashed, and he wins lots of money at the casino) but soon they take a more sinister turn. And after drawing attention to himself in the casino, the security team and the FBI start to take an interest in him as well. He is informed that others who were in similar circumstances have been found dead and that these messages may have links to the NSA and a worldwide computer-controlled system. Before long, he has gotten in too deep and realises that what started out as simple text messages may lead to dire consequences for the entire population.
The plot of Echelon Conspiracy at times feels very similar to 2008’s Eagle Eye, starring Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan. A young, unsuspecting man is given instructions by a mobile phone, and there is a threat in the form of computer-controlled technology. Both films raise questions of whether computer surveillance methods, supposedly used for our safety and security, are actually a detriment to society. Whether they could be used against us, instead of being used to protect us.
The film did have a number of poor scenes, for example, when Max visits a man named Yuri, there is a CCTV screen in Yuri’s apartment, which shows gunmen entering the building. Max asks Yuri for another escape route and Yuri points to the image of a stairwell on the screen. Then Max rushes out of the apartment and heads straight for the stairwell, even though he hasn’t been told which direction to go or where it is and he’s never visited this building before! There are a few moments like this, where any sense of realism there may be is spoiled, because you know in real-life what you have just witnessed could never have happened.
Some plus points for the film include the various locations, with Bangkok, Prague and Moscow providing scenic backdrops to the action. Also, it benefits from a good supporting cast, Jonathan Pryce’s character in particular was intriguing, if under-written, and Martin Sheen is always a welcome addition to any film.
Ultimately, Echelon Conspiracy suffers from the fact that there are other, more well-known films out there with similar stories, which tell theirs better than this one does. It doesn’t pack much of a punch and often the thrills are less than thrilling. Saying that, it should still manage to hold an audience’s interest and the actors raise it to the level of a mildly enjoyable movie experience.
Echelon Conspiracy is out on DVD today, 4th October.
Director: Greg Marcks
Cast: Shane West, Edward Burns, Ving Rhames, Jonathan Pryce
Runtime: 105 min