Tuesday, May 28, 2013

We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks

"We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks" is the latest work by the prolific and widely interested documentarian Alex Gibney, who over the past decade has given us highly infotaining films on subjects as disparate as financial fraud ("Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room"), sexual abuse within the Catholic Church ("Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God"), chemically enriched journalism ("Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson"), and Iraq-war interrogation techniques (his Oscar-winning "Taxi to the Dark Side").
Juxtaposing his side-splitting "Casino Jack and the United States of Money" with the wan Kevin Spacey retread "Casino Jack" offers the ultimate demonstration of the supremacy of truth over fiction.

Gibney begins this film by showing us how and why Wikileaks came into being, and by painting a portrait of the alternately ingratiating and standoffish Julian Assange, using interviews with, and video footage obtained from, former Wikileaks insiders. He deftly interweaves the story of Bradley Manning, the reluctant soldier soon to be tried for facilitating Wikileaks' disclosure of thousands of (properly or improperly) classified and proprietary documents. Manning's sad struggle with his gender identity disorder mixed with the remoteness and desolation of his posting and some amount of genuine moral outrage at the information then being kept from the public to make him feel that this was his best - or perhaps only - available course of action.

Gibney eventually sought to interview Assange personally for the film. Assange refused to appear unless paid a seven-figure appearance fee or given access to, and the ability to frame the presentation of, others' assessments of him. Obviously, Gibney could not grant either request, but though Assange's absence is not Gibney's fault, it does leave the film with a feeling of incompleteness. He ends up painting Assange as the ultimate hypocrite - a self-appointed revealer of truths who himself became a secret-keeper, living in a small room at an Ecuadorean embassy rather than answer sexual-assault allegations in Sweden - but we've come to expect Gibney to get to the bottom of those rape charges himself. That's the missing piece of reportage that keeps this mostly solid and compelling documentary from joining his best.

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