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We Steal Secrets - The Story of Wikileaks (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner11/07/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 130 mins

Fascinating, expertly assembled documentary that tells a riveting tale and raises a number of thought-provoking questions, though it's a shame Assange himself declined to be interviewed.

What's it all about?
Directed by acclaimed documentarian Alex Gibney, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks charts the history, successes and failures of the information-sharing website WikiLeaks, beginning with Australian founder Julian Assange's early triumphs as a ‘hacktivist’, such as exposing corrupt banking practices in Iceland. The site's greatest success came with the release of a 2007 video entitled Collateral Murder, showing a U.S. Apache helicopter mowing down unarmed civilians in Baghdad.

The film then expands to tell the story of U.S. Army PFC Bradley Manning, a tech-savvy intelligence analyst based in Baghdad and the alleged source behind the huge volume of classified military documents acquired by WikiLeaks; despite Assange's promises of anonymity, Manning was ultimately betrayed by fellow hacktivist-slash-confidante Adrian Lamo (interviewed here) and is currently awaiting trial in Leavenworth. Finally, the film charts the rise and fall of Assange himself, admiring him for his courage and his achievements, but noting how his own vanity and ego have played a part in his downfall (the story isn't really finished – Assange is still holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in the UK).

The Good
Using a combination of existing footage and to-camera interviews with friends, enemies, colleagues and journalists, Gibney paints a remarkably balanced portrait of Assange, which is especially impressive given that Assange himself declined to be interviewed for the film (negotiations collapsed when he was denied editorial approval). As regards the much publicised allegations of sexual assault, the film gently refutes the conspiracy theory that Assange has essentially been set up, but it's hard not to conclude that the various authorities are out to get him by any means necessary.

The film's strongest element is its extremely moving treatment of the story of Bradley Manning, a deeply troubled individual who's now paying a horrific price; weirdly, on some level, the film also serves as a Catfish-style warning about trusting strangers on the internet – it's implied that there was a sexual element to Manning and Lamo's relationship and it's clear that Lamo's act of betrayal still eats away at him. At the same time, the film raises several intriguing questions about secrecy, freedom of information and public interest in the digital age.

The Great
Gibney directs with a strong sense of pace, heightened by a terrific score from Will Bates. There are also a number of entertaining illustrative inserts, such as a clip from Star Trek (to illustrate the concept of an unsolveable problem, known as a Kobayashi Maru, cited by Star Trek fan Lamo) or a clip from War Games while talking about Assange's early exploits. The film also makes strong use of the gimmick of having Manning's communications appear onscreen as they would have appeared to Lamo and there's also the occasional surreal highlight, such as the shots of Assange forlornly bouncing on a trampoline.

Worth seeing?
Superbly directed and impeccably researched, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks is an informative and thought-provoking documentary that's by turns entertaining, chilling and deeply moving. Recommended.

Film Trailer

We Steal Secrets - The Story of Wikileaks (15)
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Content updated: 20/10/2017 06:00

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