He's like Luke Skywalker riding into Tataouine, or Tom Cruise turning up for his first
day of work at ĎThe Firmí. Except the stakes are a lot higher and the risks that
much greater. Or that's pretty much how Sliding Doors director Peter Howitt first saw the
story of Antitrust, his debut Hollywood movie.
Itís about how a computer geek called Milo (Ryan Phillippe) turns his back on his
friends and their tiny software start-up company - which will basically operate out of a
garage - and goes to work for NURV. NURV has nothing to do with garages: it is a
multi-billion-dollar software company and it offers him the world. But, as with all such
offers, there is a price.
"smoke and mirrors"
"I really see Antitrust as a young manís journey into facing
reality," says Howitt. "In the beginning, Milo is a techno wizard who has spent
most of his life in front of a computer. He has tunnel vision Ė heís only
interested in that screen, in that code. But as the story progresses, heís forced to
look beyond the computer screen and see whatís really going on around him. He has to
start using his heart and soul as well as his brain. He has to learn who to trust and who
not to trust. What helps him to survive is learning to pull the truth out from this world
of smoke and mirrors."
ĎSmoke and mirrorsí may not sound much like Silicon Valley, but then NURV -
which stands for ĎNever Underestimate Radical Visioní - is no ordinary computer
company. Itís working towards a breakthrough in Digital Convergence - the next holy
grail in the software world, which will enable all forms of digital communication to
understand one another (see below for further information). Digital devices donít always do that at
the moment, as anyone who has ever tried to open an e-mail attachment knows. But when they
do - and everyone reckons thatís not too far away - an information superhighway will
open up like nothing you ever dreamed of.
"power to change the world"
NURVís mega-rich boss, Gary Winston (Tim Robbins), is well on the way towards
achieving this. But he has an agenda which goes beyond the power that such a discovery
will give him - an agenda which goes to the source of power itself. Think Bill Gates
combined with James Bondís Goldfinger. For the time being, Winston needs Milo (for
whom he was an early role-model); but he is also playing a sinister game with his young
recruit, who finds himself first pursued in the recruitment sense, then pursued in the
literal sense - the prey of a plot he only slowly begins to understand. So itís not
just his heart and soul that Milo needs: itís all the other bits that go to make up
an action hero, as Gary the mentor becomes Gary the foe.
"To Milo," says Phillippe, "Gary represents the guy who has the power to
change the world, to alter life as we know it. Milo sees himself as Gary at a younger age,
but he doesnít see everything about Gary at first. The way Tim plays Gary, you really
get a sense that there are two sides to him. You see why Milo worships him but also how he
can suddenly behave in a completely opposite way."
"evil, manipulative and ruthless"
Robbins, whom Howitt cast precisely because of this ability to play the tycoon on
several levels at once - to be a bad guy who is also a role model - likewise found
himself, if not actually warming to Winston, then at least understanding why he was the
way he was.
"I like him because you canít quite figure him out," says the actor.
"On the one hand, you see that he can be benevolent and generous and brilliant. And
on the other, he didnít get to where he is without being evil, manipulative and
ruthless. I thought it was essential to convey Winstonís full complexity."
Robbins did some research of his own into a number of real-life computer moguls and
celebrity business executives who, like Winston, seemed to be pursuing personal power as
much as they are trying to gain a business advantage.
"What I discovered," he says, "is that most of them believe they are
serving the needs and clients of their customers, and yet they also operate in all kinds
of underhand ways. After all, itís a lightning fast industry. You canít ever
sleep. You canít ever rest on your laurels. You have to constantly be adapting to new
people, new discoveries, new ideas. Someone like Gary Winston has to do everything he can
in order to stay on top. He really likes to toy with people, to manipulate, to stay in
The original script for Antitrust was written by Howard Franklin, whose credits include
such Ďthinking manísí thrillers as The Name of the Rose and Someone to
Watch Over Me. Starting out with the idea of writing a script set in the computer
industry, Franklin soon latched on to the idea of digital convergence, and found it gave
him the perfect driving force for his story: it was a motive so desirable that men would
kill to attain it - as Milo gradually begins to realise.
"Itís a thrilling ride," says the director. But thereís more to it
than just an excuse for action. "The audience might also stop and think ĎWhere
do you draw the line? How much power should one person have?í A lot of us have to
face our own Gary Winstons. Maybe we can learn from Miloís story."
A Laymanís Guide to Digital Convergence
Digital Convergence refers to a future in which all of our electronic communication
devices will be united into one superpowerful feed, encompassing television, the internet,
radio and telephone. Although futuristic films, novels and even pop-culture cartoons like
The Jetsons have hinted at such a future for decades, this seemingly fantastical concept
is finally very, very close to becoming reality. Increasingly, the worlds of
telecommunications, broadcasting, computing and television are becomingly inseparably
Already, our lives are inundated with digital devices. Recently, both television and
telephone Ė the last hurdles Ė have started to go digital. Once technology
allows for high-speed digital downloads, it will be possible to purchase movies, albums,
books and video games through one simple communications device capable of doing it all.
Already 12 million Europeans enjoy the benefits of interactive television, downloading
movies and playing games through their TV sets.
So far, the technological obstacles to achieving true digital convergence have proved
difficult to solve. But the company that does so is sure to be a leader - which, of
course, raises multiple questions about who should own such technology and how much
control users should have over it.
Published April 19, 2001