There are only 12,000 FBI agents in the world, in 47 different countries. There are 14,000 cops in New York. One guy in Portland, Oregon messed with the wrong two agents.
In the new film, Untraceable, Diane Lane and Colin Hanks must use all their weapons to find a sick and twisted internet killer. The two play FBI agents who are searching for someone who has crafted the website, KillWithMe.com; the more people who log on, the faster the people die. Untraceable taps into a race against time.
ComingSoon.net sat down with director Gregory Hoblit (Fracture, Primal Fear), as well as former FBI Special Agent Ernest (EJ) Hilbert, to talk about the making of Untraceable. We had the opportunity to visit Greg’s edit bay at Sony Pictures Studios as he put the final touches on the film.
One thing Greg was intent on was making this film as accurate as possible, and keeping the intensity level up at the same time. “When this film came into my orbit, I knew from off the pages that I had to get it right; I feel there are enough people in the audience [who] know when you’re pulling a fast one. All the procedural stuff had to be accurate, and make it track so everyone makes sense. Historically, going back to ‘Hill Street Blues’ or ‘L.A. Law,’ they all involve cops and I’ve found it was so gratifying to get letters from cops as it being portrayed right.”
Greg showed us 4 or 5 scenes from the movie to get us familiar with the characters and the storyline itself. The first scene featured Diane and Colin in the offices checking on various cases; each very different, from identity theft to generic cyber crimes.
When they stumble upon the KillWithMe site, that’s when the pace is picked up. At first, it seems innocent, but after they find the live feed of a man chained up, bloody and dying, it becomes their lead case. What struck me was the man’s chest was carved in dripping blood with the phrase “killwithme.com.” “They’re just trying to figure what’s going on, and begin to track this guy,” Greg said.
What makes this one guy hard to find is the IP address keeps changing, from Russia to Portland, Oregon. How real are these cases? According to EJ, extremely. “There’s been a number of sites I’ve gone after where people are doing these exact things. On the internet, when you’re querying the site, the IP address is monitored. This guy is running various IP addresses, his server would be poisoned to change on a regular basis and he may be even controlling it. These would all be things the FBI would figure out and work through and track back; it’s just a time issue, and could take upwards of a couple months.”
Greg uses an instant messenger in Untraceable with his two leads – both EJ and Greg told us that’s also a very common tool the FBI would use to track down criminals. “I spent two years as a hacker online,” says EJ. “Anything the bad guys would use, we would use. If you’re on AIM, Yahoo chat, they’re on AIM. They thought I was the money man, they sold me the stolen goods via AIM. The tools that the FBI has worked better in certain environments, but if you want to understand the people you’re dealing with you have to act like the people you’re dealing with so you get right in there. You can’t get on the internet from your desktop computer there’s a reason for that. If you’re on the internet, it can be hacked. So the internet has to be separate, it’s its own network. You can work from there and utilize that tool.”
Greg took all of EJ’s suggestions and put them into the movie. He also got some tips from a female FBI agent at the Oregon branch. “If you notice, (Diane) has three computers in front of her, and we tried our best to tell that story. One is the intra-FBI, one is global, and the other is the alias one. It was fascinating watching Jane work up there; she had seven or eight cases open, and had her notebooks above her desk. All together, she had 35 or so, but eight of them were current. And she had three chats going at the same time, and so she would have to pull these things down and would be speaking in syntax for each one she’d be working on. One of them, she’s a 35-year-old guy here, and on one she was a teenager; she’d have to make sure she remembered what she said to each one of them ’cause they’ll ask questions to check on you. It was amazing to watch her work.”
With the cast, it was Diane who Greg really had a pulse on. “I went after Diane for this movie because she has this kind of quality that’s solid; I believe she wouldn’t look silly with a gun and a badge. When she spoke about stuff, she would speak with some authority. [Jane] took Diane over there one day and put her in front of some guy who screened himself live as a 13-year-old, who he thought he was going to meet. She got him to come into Portland, and she had him set up; they knew he was coming. Diane came back and said, ‘I can’t believe it, I just ruined two lives today.’ She got two of these guys in one day.”
“One day, you’re talking to a pedophile; the next day, you’re talking to a Russian hacker; the next day, you’re talking to an Islamic extremist who’s trying to recruit you to join his group. All the languages are different,” EJ pointed out. “It eats at you, and it takes a toll on you; it’s 24/7. I’ve worked kidnappings and things of that nature, and it takes a lot. I give far more credit to the women agents who do this because they’re not affected. Us guys, we’d just like to rip his head off.”
Every cyber criminal has a profile they are not Untraceable. You can catch Diane and Colin run down this one in theaters January 25th.