Director: Alex Gibney
Cast: Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Adrian Lano, Nick Davies, Mark Davis
Running Time: 130 minutes
Release Date: 12th July
Maybe I’m wrong, but I imagine Edward Snowden doesn’t care all that much for Julian Assange. While both are in the whisteblowing game, Snowden is right there at the coal face, begging someone to let him in like a dog in the rain scratching at the door while Assange sits pretty, lauding it over all those who try and confront him, from his modest Ecuadorian tower in central London. Snowden’s search for asylum provides the ideal framework to revisit the ongoing trials of Assange and WikiLeaks which Oscar winner Alex Gibney has done in his latest documentary.
Billed as the Story of WikiLeaks, We Steal Secrets profiles the creation of the whisteblowing site and its enigmatic leader, Assange—a man who claims his reasoning behind dumping hundreds of thousands of military, political and diplomatics cable and files is all in the name of “crushing bastards”. Beginning with the implication that an 18-year-old Assange, then going by the Hackers-esque appellation Mendex, may have been involved in a wonderfully named–Worms Against Nuclear Killers–computer worm that was launched around the same time as the Galileo spacecraft.
From here, Assange disappeared for almost two decades, using his time to understand the world he’d opened himself up to, until he re-emerged with WikiLeaks, which made its grandstanding entrance into the politcal zeitgeist with information drips about the Icelandic financial collapse and an airstrike in Baghdad where two Reuters journalists were killed. With WikiLeaks a massive player in world news, Assange’s celebrity skyrocketed, the once recluse now enjoying Mick Jagger levels of fame and the adoration of techno-activist Devon Wilsons of his own. It’s the latter which brings us to modern day Assange, holed up in an embassy office, avoiding answering questions being asked by Swedish police.
With Assange refusing to give an interview to Gibney, it’s left his history to be told through archival footage and testimonies from others. The picture of an insanely gifted, competitive and confused person emerges. Assange clearly began with noble intentions–his creed; “lights on, rats out”–yet it is abundantly evident that celebrity and paranoia have warped the man he once was. Where once there was an unmalleable compromise, now there are gagging orders and non-disclosure agreements with WikiLeaks employees. Rumours of desire to sire kids around the world only add to his puzzle.
Gibney lenses with an inventive eye that gives proceedings a zippy frenetic pace with time-lapses and SnorriCam shots used excellently. Large chunks of the movie are recreated through simple chat IMs that surprisingly are affecting, while his musicals cues are both clever and highly iconoclastic. He does suffer, however, when it comes to balancing his stories, with large portions devoted to the equally as fascinating Bradley Manning, the US Army solider who leaked the majority of cables and reports to Assange. A deeply complex character in his own right, both feel short changed in an already healthy two hour running time.
A fault it may be, but it is one born, to Gibney’s credit, out of a desire for more. The subheading The Story of WikiLeaks is misleading, there is clearly many, many more twists and turns to be negotiated in this tale. Here’s looking to part two, and to be realistic, part three.