A scene from The New Radical (The Orchard)

The word radical is almost always used pejoratively to describe people who take their political or religious ideas “too far.” In these obfuscating times, being “radical” has never elicited a more heightened response. To many Americans, it conjures up images of the lone wolf gunmen, the suicide bomber, or the bandana-clad protestor hell-bent on setting things on fire. The New Radical, however, comes from a place where the term means to seek change and uphold the basic tenants of democracy.

This brazen documentary follows infamous 3-D gun printer pioneer and self-proclaimed crypto-anarchist Cody Wilson and the more intellectually versatile hacker Amir Taaki. Wilson and Taaki join forces through their shared passion for anonymous currency and their hatred for all things big government. They are consistently at odds with federal and local law enforcement and have, more than once, been put on numerous federal watch lists.

Wilson’s and Taaki’s brush with the powers that be are reminiscent of a tame Cold War spy thriller. Indeed, the film succeeds in continuing the vital discourse on the dangers of government surveillance and the erratic and inconsistent definitions of “violence” and “terrorism” in the eyes of the state. “Privacy” and “rights” are not as objective as they seem and become even more subjective as one delves into the encrypted depths of the online world, where we will all inevitably become more immersed as smart technology becomes more integrated into our lives. The stakes that the film deals with are indeed high, both politically and morally.

As a character study, the film is strongest when it focuses on its second principle subject, Taaki, a British-Iranian hacker who spends his time evading federal law enforcement, preaching about the inherent venality of big banking, and hopping and sleeping from one derelict warehouse to the next. He’s a true bohemian anarchist and really does earn the film’s title of “new radical.” Wilson, on the other hand, doesn’t get much attention by way of character; we don’t know what drives him, besides his lust for print-made weaponry. Yes, he claims that the overarching theme here is government encroachment on privacy, but if this is the only goal then, as far as radicals go, Wilson is pretty tame, especially when Julian Assange, the controversial founder of WikiLeaks, appears right in the next frame.

The New Radical advertises itself as a film about millennial radicals in the new age. Yet the only one we see who truly uses his hacking powers for a greater cause is often sidelined in place of the ideologically opaque, gun-obsessed, self-described “free-market anarchist.” Nevertheless, Wilson’s story and the case surrounding it, which has gone up to the Supreme Court, could open up conversations to bring about ideas that could be called, indeed, radical.

Directed by Adam Bhala Lough
Released by the Orchard
USA. 109 min.