With a subject matter that oddly feels both timely and out-of-date, this documentary is packed with telling details about WikiLeaks, Although it gets muddy as it delves into the lives of founder Julian Assange and whistleblower Bradley Manning. Prolific Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney (see Taxi to the Dark Side or Maxima Mea Culpa) deploys his usual skill to assemble a lucid, entertaining film, but the dirt-digging approach leaves us with more questions than answers.
The roots of WikiLeaks go back to the pre-internet days in 1989, when Melbourne student Assange participated with a group of hackers to break into Nasa's space shuttle launch system with a message from Australian band Midnight Oil: "You talk of times of peace for all, and then prepare for war". Nearly 20 years later he established WikiLeaks in the response the growing mountain of secrets being held by Western governments following 9/11. The idea is simple: WikiLeaks allows people to post images and documents anonymously in a way that can never be taken down. And it's essentially run by one man with a battered laptop and lots of friends.
The film features a wide array of interviews with people who have worked with Assange or know his work, plus extensive footage of the man himself. The most telling description of him is as a "humanitarian anarchist" who speaks out against what he sees as "not democracy but encroaching privatised censorship". And the main focus here is on his interaction with Manning, a military computer nerd who was picked on for being gay, stuck in an isolated Iraqi base and shocked by evidence he discovered about the American military's illegal, unethical and immoral activities.
Gibney puts all of this together with considerable artistry, focussing on the human emotions that drive people to action. But sometimes he gets distracted by the more tabloid-style details, such as the sex-assault charges in Sweden against Assange (telling but essentially irrelevant) or Manning's transgendered sexuality. The real issue here is the fact that standing up to your government when it does something wrong is about the most patriotic thing a person can do, and yet these men are called traitors, terrorists, sex offenders and perverts. And in the end, it's hard to escape the feeling that, since it was made before Edward Snowden's even more shocking revelations, this film already feels obsolete.
Run time: 130 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 11th July 2013
Box Office USA: $0.2M
Distributed by: Focus World
Production compaines: Universal Pictures, Jigsaw, Global Produce
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Fresh: 71 Rotten: 5
IMDB: 6.8 / 10
Director: Alex Gibney
Producer: Alexis Bloom, Marc Shmuger
Screenwriter: Alex Gibney
Starring: Julian Assange as Himself, Chelsea Manning as Herself (archive footage) (as Bradley Manning), John 'Fuzface' McMahon as Himself, Robert Manne as Himself (as Prof. Robert Manne), Heather Brooke as Himself
Also starring: Alex Gibney
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