The Great Hack was one of the wildest movies I saw at Sundance

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The trailer is out for Netflix doc The Great Hack, an early cut of which was screened at Sundance this year. I saw that cut during the fest and it was one of the wildest of a second wave of films trying to make sense of what the hell happened with Facebook and the election. A year ago, the tone was different. It was more shock and awe and impressionist art pieces. The Great Hack is part of a new breed that is making a serious attempt to put things into a narrative that normals can understand.

The film anchors itself mostly on two figures, Parsons School of Design Professor David Carroll and ex-Cambridge Analytica employee and ostensible whistleblower Brittany Kaiser, with a cast of other touchstone figures like Guardian journalist Carole Cadwalladr.

One of the major weaknesses of this kind of story is that it is likely best told in minutes of product meetings and repo commits, rather than attached to human narrative. But that’s not how most humans think and the past 10 years have proven that even the people charged with protecting users from these systems have very little idea about how they actually work or how vulnerable they were and continue to be to manipulation. So The Great Hack takes an earnest stab at laying out the basics of how Facebook and other online platforms were manipulated and compromised in order to fuel Cambridge Analytica’s manipulation machine and, by extension, election campaigns and other public sentiment scenarios.

The version I saw did its best to connect these topics with tissue that (mostly, but not always) feels like it is linking the events with human counterparts involved. It does paint some of the journalists and figures in the piece with a bit of a golden brush, and never goes much further than ambivalence when featuring Kaiser, who was, by her own admission, right alongside Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix (who plays the villain of the piece (IRL as well as in the doc) through CA’s most controversial period.

But, if you’ve been following the whole saga and reading news obsessively, not much in here is going to feel like brand new information. It is likely, though, that there will be plenty that is new to a broader Netflix audience. If they were able to fix some of the pacing issues and land some of the “revelations” with more punch in the final version I think it may have legs.

The doc hits Netflix on July 24th. You should check it out for yourself.