We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks - DVD Review

'A documentary both important and compelling; a study of both a significant time in recent history and the key players within it'.

The subtitle for director Alex Gibney's We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks feels somewhat misleading after watching. This seldom feels like "The Story Of WikiLeaks" - the company itself rarely takes centre stage, much more often providing the backdrop for other stories to be told. Director Alex Gibney instead divides his time roughly equally between two key focuses: the life of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, from his time growing up in Australia to his current refugee status in the Ecuadorian Embassy of London; and the questionable practices of the US Army in relation to accessing sensitive information after 9/11.

The title itself is arguably deceptive as well: "We steal secrets" is a quote from an interview within the film from former head of the CIA and NSA Michael Hayden, and refers to the practices not of WikiLeaks but of the US government. Coupled with the film's somewhat off-target subtitle, it's easy to begin questioning how much control Gibney had over the marketing of his own film. The anti-US stance Gibney adopts fairly consistently throughout may have had a part to play in that, although the director never strays anywhere near the scaremongering style of Michael Moore. Gibney presents the events he focuses upon in a tight and matter-of-fact fashion, giving We Steal Secrets a polished and professional feel.

That Gibney is happy to let the facts speak for themselves largely works. The director assembles an impressive array of talking heads, again seemingly presenting the views of each without bias. Gibney's inclusion of Adrian Lamo as an interviewee is particularly effective, the director never taking the opportunity to either defend or condemn Lamo and his actions. It's something which you can imagine a lesser filmmaker might have felt inclined to do; Gibney's restraint instead allows Lamo to emerge as one of the most confusing and fascinating personalities on show here, a figure to whom you will be entirely unsure of how to react come the film's conclusion.

The two obvious holes within Gibney's line-up are Assange himself (who appears only in previously recorded interviews and footage) and Chelsea - formerly Bradley - Manning, the person at the centre of arguably WikiLeaks' most famous document leak upon which a great deal of We Steal Secrets focuses. Whilst Gibney admirably ties his film together without securing an interview with either Assange or Manning, there's a sense that the involvement of even one of these two could have pushed his film up a few notches further.

When at his best, Gibney is untouchable. The opening prologue recounting the 1989 "WANK worm" attack on NASA's computer system grips you immediately in a manner of which many political thrillers can only dream. The final half an hour or so is arguably We Steal Secrets' strongest section, tying up all that Gibney has focused upon in an expertly structured and captivating fashion.

There are also moments where Gibney allows his film to get away from his control however. At a few points around the middle things become a little too scattershod, shifting too rapidly between focusing on Assange's life and the US military scandal to be comfortably followed. Gibney's handling of Assange's sexual assault charges also feels a little too sensationalist when compared to the high quality coverage everything else here receives. The handful of weaknesses here are largely forgiveable however. We Steal Secrets stands up as a documentary both important and compelling; a study of both a significant time in recent history and the key players within it that will undoubtedly be analysed and theorised about for years to come.




By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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